Sunday 15th October: Mammal Trapping with Val Clinging
A Library Event – 28 July 2017
A Nature Hunt for Children and Families organised by Jill Hnat
Led by Chris Measures, Friends of Gillfield Wood
Arriving in the library at 10.30am on this fine Friday morning there was a real buzz of excitement as children gathered and checked that their name badge was firmly attached to their clothing and they had the required pencil and little brown paper collecting bag.
As still more children arrived through the doors, with parents or grandparents in attendance, Jill, the organiser of the event, batted a range of questions as she took the register and handed out the necessary kit for each child to take out with them on this nature walk with a difference. Stuck to the side of their collecting bags was a list of fourteen things they were being challenged to either see, hear or collect. Things such as “A feather”; “Something fuzzy”; “A squirrel running or jumping in the trees”. Each thing on the list had a tick box by the side, the list being headed “Let’s go on a Nature Hunt and see what we can find!”
One young man, all of 7 years old, queried whether number 13 on the list, “Wildflower”, should be collected. “No, we should not pick wild flowers, just admire them”. He probably knew that anyway but was making sure the leader knew. “Now children, number 6….Squirrel….best just watch that, don’t try and catch it and put it in your paper bag”. They smiled and were all keen to get started.
And so it was that as the party moved out through the library doors, the children’s eyes were scanning everywhere to find at least one item on their list. “Something green” a perfect start as the children shouted out “grass, trees, leaves” and eagerly ticked the appropriate box. Then a feather was found lying on the grass, another box ticked and one lucky boy, in the blink of an eye, had quickly tucked the find away in his collecting bag. It was great to be able to show the children that nature is on their doorstep, all around them, no matter where they are. Before moving on, the children gently touched the purple flower heads of an Allium and we all agreed this could be classed as “Something fuzzy” so another box could be ticked and one or two children carefully wrote down the word “A L L I U M”. There was no need to encourage these children, they were all up for this Hunt.
Green Oak Park was our next port of call; so much to see and talk about in this area with its trees, shrubs, flowers and a stream with two small ponds. The flower bed, as on previous walks, proved a great attraction as the children gathered round to look at the different variety of plants, the colours and textures, plus they had the opportunity of watching, up close, a number of bees as they fed on the nectar. Some of the children noted the differences between Honeybees and Bumblebees, whilst some ran their small hands through Lavender stems to feel the texture and then to smell the fragrance. The grey leaves of the plant, Lamb’s Ear, were the “Something soft and gentle to touch”, so box number 8 was successfully ticked; even some of the adults were amazed at how soft these leaves felt.
Turning then to walk by a line of shrubs the children rushed on to see what next they could find on their list and they were quick to point out that some of the bushes were prickly and they could also see bramble, armed with sharp thorns, creeping over these bushes. So “Something prickly to make you squeal” was ticked but thankfully only squeals of delight were heard this particular day. It was also here that cones nibbled by squirrels were inspected and collected and a small patch of fungi was found and studied as it grew in the shade of a pine tree.
As the children then admired the wooden carvings of Otter, Rabbit and Squirrel that stand in the park, some children edged near to the sides of the ponds to search the pond weed and surrounding vegetation. It was here that one of the highlights of the Hunt took place as everyone became engrossed in watching tiny frogs resting and hopping on the surface of the weeds. A youngster even managed to carefully catch one and then proudly showed it to everyone as it sat quietly in his hands but, as he gently returned it to the pond, it hopped into his wellington boot! Much laughing and excitement was had by all as it was then seen to crawl out of the dark inside of his boot and up his leg to freedom.
As we then walked on, the occasional small white butterfly was noted in flight and box 14 was ticked whilst some children dashed to pick up the odd feather that happened to be lying on the grass. One such feather, on close inspection, when tilted in the sun showed not just black but blue and green along the edge. A young boy shouted out to the gathered group “it’s a Magpie’s!” and then one more feather disappeared into a brown collecting bag.
When it was suggested we should look at the trees on the edge of the park for different kinds of leaves more than one youngster politely pointed out that they had already collected the required three leaves and they had ticked box number 4. Remaining one step ahead of this group of very enthusiastic youngsters was proving a challenge in more ways than one. However, not to be de-railed, the group were encouraged to search the ground below the trees where a lot of old beech mast could be found for all to bag and tick box 11 “An acorn, a beech nut or an alder cone”. A collection of tiny acorns would come a bit later.
Some freshly developing beech mast was then pointed out in the lower branches of a huge Beech tree. This proved an ideal opportunity to show the differences not only in the leaves but in the seeds that hung in the Sycamore, Lime and Ash and to then demonstrate how they fall to the ground and give the opportunity for new trees to grow. A further example was the new conkers growing on the Horse Chestnut tree and the tiny conker trees growing in the leaf litter below, which certainly grabbed everyone’s attention. The group would go on to inspect Oak and Hazel but not before box 7 was ticked. This challenge involved a favourite, the hugging of a tree, “Something rough and bumpy to touch”. There is nothing quite like hugging a big old tree and connecting with nature whilst you peer into the massive canopy above.
Attention was then drawn to a Harlequin Ladybird resting on a leaf at just the right eye-level for a sharp eyed youngster to find. As the insect then crawled slowly over an open hand, another box was ticked, box 5, “Something wriggling or crawling”. And then just as everyone was admiring its many black markings on its bright red casing it opened its tiny wings and casually flew high across the open field for all to see.
On with the Hunt which then led everyone down to the Scout Hut off Aldam Road and along the footpath in the direction of Gillfield Wood. So much more to find along this footpath, so many different varieties of “Wildflower” which deserved a big tick in the appropriate box and although the sun was not shining, bees and hoverflies, moths, spiders, beetles and snails were present as was a number of butterflies. The markings on Comma, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Large Skipper were pointed out and a magnificent Red Admiral was discovered in a clearing as it rested with wings wide open. But box 3 “A smooth pebble” awaited. Totley Brook was flowing gently by the side of our path so it did not take a second before the children were scampering down to the edge of the brook to search through the stones for that one smooth pebble they would choose for their collection. Needless to say those children wearing wellington boots wanted a stone from the bed of the brook, below the water, so wading in they went with hands searching; the dry edge of the brook would not do for these adventurers as it did not provide quite the same excitement on a morning like this.
Hardly a bird had been seen or a bird heard on this walk so box 10 “Listen and hear a bird singing” may not have been ticked by many but some may have counted the solitary Carrion Crow that called from a roof top before it flew over our heads as we returned to the library for a 12.30pm finish. After an action packed two hours it was lovely to see the children sitting around tables, at the end of the Hunt, chatting away as they dived into drinks and biscuits, and adults too were seen to be in deep conversation; a very special atmosphere in a much loved library. It would be nice to think they were all sharing their favourite moments.
Perhaps they were; perhaps they were all discussing number 6 “A squirrel running or jumping in the trees”. Yes, we did see a squirrel. It caused such excitement and surprise. Adults were pointing as they tried to guide the eyes of their children onto it as it ran along branches and jumped its way through the tree. “It’s there running up the tree! There, look, look! “. A perfect moment and although some children were gently held back so all had the opportunity of seeing this animal’s antics, there may have been just one small child thinking “I do wish I could put that squirrel in my little brown collecting bag and take it home”.
A Song for the Wood (7 May 2017)
The Poetry Slot…for just this issue becomes the Gillfield Wood Song Slot!
This month, how could I resist featuring a song composed with children and parents after a visit to our very own Gillfield Wood? The workshop to create it was part of our Woodland Trust Tree Charter activities. Totley Library agreed to partner and help us. You can hear a rough recording at https://soundcloud.com/sally-goldsmith/gillfield-wood-song.
Gillfield Wood is often the site of surveys, walks and conservation activities, all organised by the busy Friends group. But making a song, and with children too - now that's more unusual, and perhaps the reason why only two little lads turn up, one with his mum, one with his dad on this Sunday May morning. (Worried about ‘nature deprivation’? Come on parents – take them to the woods and join in our activities!) We meet at the end of Totley Hall Lane by the field gate. I explain that once, hundreds of years ago, the fields here were wood too. Then I hand out pencils, leaf shaped green notebooks. And we're off.
The veteran oaks at the edges of the fields are beginning to dress themselves in spring frocks. The wood stretches itself before us. We turn our heads like owls to take in its curve, the glimpse of moors behind us, but it's the dandelion clocks which attract the lads - hundreds of them, perfect soft globes across the field. We crouch, look, blow them to find out the time. Over the ladder stile, and we're into the wood’s dark, bluebells and wood anemones scattered like little lamps. We look up at leaves ‘spattered’ against the sky, down at the perfect bells 'like little hats', across at the 'worming stream,' listen to a crow 'creaking’. I set them the challenge to walk on the path for a while, making no noise at all. They do, creeping, and a woman comes toward us and starts to creep too! We close our eyes, listen to the call of chiffchaffs, the ‘trippling’ stream. Later, we find the old hollow oak with its ‘octopus arms’ and its rope swing. It's bark is “dry and cracked’. We harvest our words.
Back across the park to the library where with the words from our leaf notebooks, the back of a huge roll of wallpaper and some markers, we write the song, finding a tune with the help my accordion. Afterward there is cake from the lovely library volunteers.
The Song of Gillyfield Wood
Chorus: I am Gillyfield Wood
Sitting in the fields,
I am Gillyfield Wood
And I can see the moors.
1. Welcome through my dandelion clocks,
You can clamber over my stile,
Into the haze of bluebell hats
And listen to my trippling stream.
2. My leaves are spattered against the sky,
My branches twist and turn so high,
Chiffchaffs chaffing and creaking crows,
Follow my worming stream that flows.
3. Come inside my dry cracked oak,
Swing and swing on its octopus arms,
Crouch inside – it’s like a house,
Creep under my leaves like a quiet mouse.
A Library Event – 30 July 2016
A Nature Walk for Children and Families organised by Jill Hnat
One of the great rewards of being with children on a nature walk is when they become totally engrossed watching an insect. On this occasion it was a Ladybird. The red colour noted; the seven black spots counted. The fact that it was freely walking over hands and up bare arms added to the excitement, and when it walked upside down on the underside of a hand their amazement had to be seen to be believed. Then there were giggles and screams as this tiny creature tried to disappear up a child’s sleeve. A magical moment which, no doubt, will be remembered by all for some time to come.
Such was the case on this latest nature walk from the library, a walk that involved a small cluster of children accompanied by their parents. As they stepped out of the library the children were encouraged to look closely at their surroundings and note the flowers, trees, bees and butterflies that were immediately around them. As they inspected several bees and noted their different shapes and colours, the pollen on the legs of some bees was clearly visible for the children to appreciate. Then an obliging Gatekeeper butterfly landed on a flower in front of them for all to see the spots and markings on the underside of the closed wings.
As the group progressed towards Green Oak Park a solitary Swift was seen flying above nearby houses; the curved- back wings and speed of flight of this bird could clearly be seen. This was then compared to the slow purposeful flight of a Heron on its huge down-curved wings. When entering the park two more butterflies were found sheltering from the wind, then the smells and feel of various flowers, including Lavender, were eagerly experienced. As was the “sticky weed” which caused much amusement as it was carefully thrown against items of clothing.
Time was then spent looking at a large bed of wild flowers where bees, flies and hoverflies were visiting the centre of the tall yellow flowers, they were going from one to the other flower- head searching for the right feeding or resting station. It was here that the children had the chance to look through a hand-held lens and see in detail a tiny insect perfectly magnified. They also stared intensely at the long probing proboscis of a number of hoverflies.
Before leaving the park the group compared, in the hand, the leaves of trees such as Ash, Beech and Sycamore. They also looked carefully at the seed pods of each; their different shapes and designs and their purposes were discussed. Small hands held these proud possessions whilst one “young man” checked his tree book for confirmation of identification which any aspiring naturalist is encouraged to do. The opportunity was also taken to feel rugged grooved tree bark and to hug a tree; no-one resisted this when the idea was suggested. And as we passed by the railings bordering the park, one keen-eyed boy pointed out the strands of a spider’s web at his eye- level. These strands stretched between the bars and when he was questioned as to how spiders manage such a marvellous feat he confidently confirmed that “they swing” from one bar to the other. Now this boy had Spiderman shoes on, so who was going to argue with him, and he, like the others, was now fully involved in getting close to nature, which is what the walk was all about.
Moving on to the Scout Hut area, some gazed in awe at the huge Oak Tree by the side of Totley Brook when told it was likely to be over three hundred years old and others listened intently to Paul Hancock talking about his special interest, the aquatic life in the brook. Gary Scholes together with Paul, active committee members of the Friends of Gillfield Wood, had come along to give their much appreciated support to this event. The children’s attention was also drawn to the noise of the brook running over rocks and stones as it flowed down through the wood.
In this area as well, further wild flowers, butterflies and insects were encountered and there was the opportunity to run hands through tall grasses and look closely at their seed heads. And whilst Starlings were heard to chatter from bushes nearby, black Crows flew low overhead against a background of white clouds.
Nearing the end of the walk the group stood with beds of Rosebay Willowherb towering over them and swathes of Meadow Sweet blowing in the breeze around them. It was here a small number of Blue Tits were seen flying across the clearing and the bright colours of a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly were admired as it rested on the white trumpet-shaped flower of Bindweed whilst a Nursery Web Spider secretly rested on a leaf directly below. One parent took two paces back and shuddered at the sight of the spider, and that was just looking at the photograph that had been quickly taken. The children took it all in their stride.
“Trees”; “Birds”; “Grass”; “Seeds”; “Clouds” were five of the many things the children had listed at the library just before the walk started. These things were what they hoped to see on the walk, so all had gone well during this relaxed adventure in the great outdoors. Fortunately for the leader, “Ostrich” had been put on the “Unlikely to see” list!
It turned out to be a lovely clear bright morning so there was much for the children to hear, see, smell and touch and as a result, tick off the wish lists they had made. Experiences with nature at first hand for little ones; absolutely perfect. And when one young lady was asked, over refreshments at the end, if she still had her tree leaves, she pointed at her small rucksack with pride, and smiled. A new budding naturalist? One can only hope so, and encourage.
A Library Event – 31 July 2015
A Nature Walk for Children and Families organised by Jill Hnat
A small group of children, with their accompanying adults, gathered excitedly in the library as they wrote down what they hoped to see on their Nature Walk. “Trees”, “Flowers”, “Butterfly” and then there was “Frog”, now that would be a challenge.
At least it was sunny so walking into Green Oak Park and standing next to a bed of wildflowers produced an explosion of bright colours to meet the eye. Bees and Hoverflies were in abundance. The lovely soft leaves of Lamb’s Ear were there to be gently touched and Lavender was at its best to be smelt.
At this point a caterpillar appeared in someone’s hand, it had hitched a ride on their collar. Its tufts, hairs and colours amazed the children, it was a caterpillar of the moth The Vapourer. It proved an ideal time for the children to also be shown an empty chrysalis. It had been brought along for their close inspection and it was pointed out to them where a Peacock Butterfly had recently emerged from the hole in the end. Amazement all around.
The leaves on some trees in the park were then compared in the hand, from Rowan to Sycamore, from Ash to Beech. And then the supply of food, in the trees and on the ground, in the form of berries and beech mast for birds and mammals, was pointed out and discussed. By now the children were really “into it” and one young girl heard a bird singing, it was a Goldfinch on a television aerial, so the importance of listening was emphasised, whilst a young boy pointed out a butterfly as we passed by a Buddleia. One of the adults remarked that the children were noticeably growing in confidence.
Arriving near to the Scout Hut a number of butterflies were on the wing seeking out their food plants and those that settled gave some of the group the opportunity to compare the different colours and patterns on the wings.
Sometimes they landed too far away or too high up for the young ones to get good views but one obliging Comma butterfly did at least land with open wings low down for all to admire its rich markings and the remarkable scalloped edges to its wings. And then a Small Skipper butterfly put in a brief appearance to show off its tiny size.
A male Sparrowhawk was then spotted gliding quietly over the tops of nearby trees and shortly afterwards a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew overhead demonstrating its undulating flight. So much to hear and see in the area it was difficult to know whether to look up or down, but one sharp eyed girl pointed out a tiny 2 Spot Ladybird which was an excellent find for all to admire.
On the main path all the children were able to see and appreciate a Southern Hawker Dragonfly in flight, hunting, twisting and turning. Then it was observed at rest, hanging from the outer edges of a bush, with its wings outstretched; its dynamic shape and colours were there for all to see.
The children then had the chance to “hug a tree”, their small hands tentatively touching the rugged bark. Their eyes stared upwards through the branches of the huge Oak tree standing by the brook as they tried to get their heads around the fact that the tree could be at least 300 years old. They were asked to compare this with the small, perhaps 3 year old Oak sapling that they had been shown in the library car park earlier.
As we stood by the old Oak tree, interesting aspects of natural history relating to and found in the brook were explained by Paul Hancock, a committee member of the Friends of Gillfield Wood, whilst he pointed out different features and specimens on the undersides of rocks picked out of the brook. A few metres further on an umbrella was suddenly and surprisingly produced, but no, it had not started to rain. With the umbrella open and inverted and held in place, the lower branches of another Oak tree were given a good shake by some of the children and a variety of insects dropped into it. This produced another highlight, for all the children to see up close, two Harvestmen that were seen to stride purposefully with bodies raised on their long legs.
Before we knew it, it was time to return to the library; a very rewarding two hours. But on the way back we did stop outside one very interesting front garden where, much to everyone’s amusement, an extra bird was added to the list, a (stone) Penguin and there just above it was a smiling Frog!! Yes, a stone one, but all agreed “Mission Accomplished”, children enjoying nature in all its forms and having fun together and outside. What could be better.
BIRD NEST BOXES (MARCH 2015)
If you are out walking through Gillfield Wood you may notice that a number of nest boxes have been erected at the east end of the wood. Most of these boxes should be visible to anyone walking on the main footpath into the wood from the Scout Hut that is situated near Mickley Lane just behind houses on Green Oak Road.
Local group, Friends of Gillfield Wood, approached Sheffield Council and one of the Council Rangers kindly delivered planks of wood to the Scout Group for the construction of 15 nest boxes. With the appropriate design and measurements the planks were cut to size and under guidance the Cubs expertly made the boxes. It is hoped these boxes will accommodate nesting Blue Tits and Great Tits and possibly other species including the scarce Tree Sparrow which overwinters in small numbers in this area. Tree Sparrows can also be seen here during the breeding season although they can be quite elusive when they hide amongst the hawthorn bushes with the House Sparrows.
During one morning in September a team of Scouts eagerly erected the boxes on trees by the brook, as well as near to the main path to the wood and just inside the wood by that little bridge and metal kissing gate if you know it.
Mr Shepley of Woodthorpe Hall had kindly given his permission for the nest boxes to be attached to trees on his land which runs across the brook from the Hall and up the sloping field to the gardens of Rowan Tree Dell. Mick Hollindale, Scout Leader, had overseen this whole nest box project. And together with him, parents of the Scouts helped on the day when the boxes were being erected, and they even added a few extra inches in height when getting some boxes that little bit higher up the trees.
An excellent team and community effort all round, well done to the Cubs and Scouts. We do hope residents and local walkers will get a great deal of pleasure watching the comings and goings of any birds that do use the boxes, but we hope they don’t stand too near if the birds are carrying nest material or food. At the time of writing at least one of the boxes is being used as a roosting site, so that is a good start. Here’s to an interesting and successful breeding season this year.
Fun Day (Feb 2013)
On the 20th February 2013, Sheffield Council Ranger Chris Roberts, assisted by two of his colleagues, ran a wonderful Fun Day for Children in Gillfield Wood.
Sixteen children of various ages turned up for the event on that chilly winter morning. All the children, wrapped up warm, were accompanied by adults who were only too happy to get involved and lend a helping hand when needed.
The challenge set for the children was to build shelters from branches and brash found on the woodland floor. Some plastic sheeting had also been brought along for them to add a little bit extra to their shelters. With great enthusiasm the children set about the task and before too long a wide variety of colourful constructions stood in a clearing inside the wood.
After expending all that energy the children were shown how to carefully and safely make a small fire and before too long they were sitting around the camp fire with hot drinks whilst being shown how to make some small pieces of charcoal. Then with great excitement they returned to their shelters in anticipation of the “wind and rain” test. Quite what that involved they did not know.
All however became clear. As they crouched inside their shelters, the Rangers created a perfect storm by shaking their constructions and pouring a bucket of water over the plastic coverings to see just how secure and waterproof each shelter was. With cheers and screams of delight from inside the shelters, the children were totally involved in their day of fun in a beautiful woodland setting. And so it was, they returned home happy, having taken part in a special day outdoors and, of course, they were all very proud that their shelters had survived the vigorous test.
Our thanks go to Chris Roberts and his team, for their time and effort running such a successful event in our wood. Chris Measures, representing FoGW, was in attendance and he really enjoyed himself too!