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.