Exploring Our Woodlands
Summer sights, Summer sounds
Firstly, apologies for the larger than usual gap between this posting and my previous blog; I have been very busy! Many aspects of the project are nearing completion and the presence of the woodland project at St Fagans is becoming more and more obvious. So here’s what’s been going on…
The path through the woodland has been dug and the panels will be with us in the next few weeks. I’m very excited about the panels as they have a lot of brilliant hands-on learning displays such as a wind-up arm that plays bird song and a load of models of footprints, feeding remains and droppings of woodland mammals! It looks like the path will be ready sometime in June and it promises to be an excellent addition to the museum.
The website too is near completion and will be live in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to watching the birds as they come and go, and am curious as to which species we’ll get visiting our feeders and nest boxes. The pond cam should be a delight too, and I can’t wait to have a go at filming newts!
This week has felt like the first week of summer with temperatures reaching 23 degrees Celsius. I took a group of visitors on a bird walk at 5:30am on Saturday to celebrate international dawn chorus day and it was a great success. As well as resident species we also saw migrants such as Blackcap, and the songs of Chiffchaff have been ringing around since late March. The woods are full of birdsong as the birds sing to mark their territories and attract a mate, and birds with beaks full of nesting material have become a common sight. There has also been a riot of colour in the woods over the past month with the blossoming of spring flowers such as primrose, lesser celandine, wood anemones, garlic mustard and bluebell. The trees too have begun to blossom and grow fresh green leaves and the canopy is getting thicker every day.
That’s it for now, but keep a look out for the website and the woodland path next month!
Spring dips its toe in
It is mid February and the wet and windy weather that persisted throughout January has given way to clearer skies. The days have been sunny and bright but quite cold at the same time, and the clear nights are leaving ponds and puddles iced over long into the morning.
Many of the early signs that spring is on the way have been on show for a few weeks now. Snowdrops have been up since late January and hazel catkins have been swinging in the breeze since the beginning of the month. Primrose and lesser celandines have also been growing about the site since mid February. The hawthorn bushes are growing fresh green leaves and the daffodils are flowering too. I’ve also seen quite a few bumblebees since the start of the month and I found a lone ladybird perching on a twig.
Amphibians such as frogs and newts filling up small ponds are a good indicator that spring is truly here, because it means the water is warming up. I found a few newts in the tannery pits last week but it’s still a bit too cold for them with the water prone to freezing in the night. Keep your eyes peeled for frogs spawning around the beginning of March when it’s a bit warmer. Listen out too for chiffchaffs singing later in March. They are usually one of the first of our migrant bird species to arrive from Africa.
Last week was the school half term holidays and I ran workshops based on spotting the signs of spring. Over 1200 visitors took part in a leaf quiz, and went out spotting spring flowers and birds with my spring trails. You can download spring trails and record what you’ve seen on the Nature Detectives website. You can also visit the brand new Exploring Our Woodlands website which will be taking shape over the next few weeks.
In the Bleak Midwinter
It’s been very wet and windy over the past few months, with just the occasional sunny spell breaking through before the miserable midwinter weather sets in again. The weather has made wildlife watching hard, with most of the birds keeping their heads down to avoid getting blown away! I have noticed however, during my wanders in the brief sunny breaks, that the birds seem a lot tamer and don’t fly away as readily as they usually do. The reason is probably that their energy reserves are low and so they are trying to conserve as much energy by doing as little as possible. Either that or they are just so used to visitors that they simply don’t mind anymore. I swear there was a Robin following me around yesterday…
The project is quickly racing towards the natural extravaganza that is the springtime. The information panels for the path are written, and we’re finalising the design. The wildlife cameras will be here soon (I can’t wait!) and a flash new website is on the way too. I’m also busy preparing worksheets for families and lesson plans and resources for teachers, so it’s all very hectic, but should make the spring and summer a very special time indeed. I've had enough of the winter now, bring on the spring!
October sun makes way for November chill
The autumn has been in full swing for a couple of weeks now, and the mild weather has resulted in some spectacular scenes here at St Fagans. The days of October were sunny and clear and the winds have been calm. The result of all this were spectacular shades of orange, red, yellow and brown as the leaves changed colour but stayed on the trees. Now that it is mid November we have had a couple of blustery days and a couple of rainy days and the branches are becoming increasingly bare as piles of dry leaves collect along the paths and roads. The temperature has also dropped dramatically over the past week, with the cold nights often leaving a frost on the leaves by the morning.
Many of the trees and hedges that bore fruit earlier in the month have been picked clean by the hungry birds. The squirrels are having a field day with all the seeds and nuts currently in abundance on the trees, Particularly the Beech Mast which is just starting to fall. I’ve also seen a good few Redwing over the past few weeks that have flown south from Scandinavia to cash in on the bounty of Hawthorn and Yew berries.
As far as activities go I had a very busy week with the school half term holidays. I ran workshops based on the BBC Autumnwatch and Nature Detectives schemes and personally dealt with over 1100 visitors! There was a leaf identification trail and an autumn identification challenge as well as colouring in for the little ones. The autumnwatch website is well worth a visit as it has loads of free resources and information that will keep you busy for years!
The woodland path is coming along nicely and plans for the panels are moving forwards. I’m particularly pleased with some of the ideas for activity panels that will get people interacting with their surroundings, and actually looking differently at the woodland. The path was cleared last week with the help of some volunteers from Legal & General and it's starting to look more walkable. Many thanks to the guys and girls at L&G for being such tough nuts and doing a great job! I've put some pictures below.
The Ty Gwyrdd interpreter Elin Roberts and myself have also started getting bird food from a company called Wiggly Wrigglers and have been feeding the birds all manner of treats outside the Ty Gwyrdd . I'm hoping to put up several bird feeding stations in the next few weeks as well as some nest boxes and hedgehog boxes too. Let me know if you have any comments and don't forget to look at the pictures!
Exploring Our Woodlands
Hello everyone! I've decided to start a blog about the newest and (in my opinion) coolest project here at St Fagans: National History Museum. I have been appointed 'woodlands facilitator' and it is my job to facilitate the woodland as much as is humanly possible.
First I think I might tell you a bit about my own background. My name is Gareth Bonello and I am 26 years old. I am originally from Cardiff and despite living in the city I developed a deep love of nature which led me to study Zoology at the University of Bristol. After graduating in 2002 I worked for the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) conducting bird surveys throughout the North West of England. I returned to Cardiff in 2003 where I worked as a Natural History Facilitator at the National Museum Cardiff for three and a half years.
I began working at St Fagans National History Museum in May 2007. I also have an interest in Photography and Film and I and am about to complete an MA in Film at the University of Wales Newport. If I ever have any spare time I like to play my guitar, eat and sleep!
Enough about me, what about the project? Well it has three main branches:
- Nature Path
- The Web
Firstly, the project is an educational project aiming to teach people about the natural history of the forest, sustainability and a lot more besides. During the school term I shall be running workshops for schools inside the woodland here at St Fagans. The workshops will incorporate such activities as mini-beast identification, tree biology, PE and Art. During the school holidays I will be running activities for families based on a woodland theme.
Secondly, the project aims to put a new nature path in place. This will run through Beech woodland to the rear of the Celtic Village where a new entrance shall be in place. Along the path there will be interpretive panels with information about the natural history of the Beech Wood and uses of woodland throughout history. I’m also hoping to get a chainsaw sculptor in to make some interesting carvings and the new Celtic Village interpreter Ian Daniel is hopefully going to make some wooden carvings of figures from Celtic mythology.
Thirdly, the project will go online. Wildlife camera specialists Eco-Watch (who did BBC Springwatch) are going to help put in nest box cameras, bird table cameras and pond dipping cameras ready for the spring. In addition I shall be filming and taking photos throughout the year and posting pictures and movies on the web to keep you abreast of the latest developments.
The wildlife here is pretty impressive with Lesser Horseshoe Bats roosting in the barns, Great Crested Newts in the ponds and mind boggling varieties of Insects, Birds and Mammals; I think I’ve got my work cut out for me! The website will also feature educational games and resources for teachers as well as links to this blog and to other websites dedicated to woodland wildlife.
I’m going to aim to write on here once a month, but I’ll write extra bits when really interesting things happen! In the meantime have a look at these websites to find out more about woodlands and the animals that live there:
Here are some photos that I've taken recently:
The Exploring Our Woodlands project is funded by Legal & General and Cardiff Council through Cardiff Council Communities Landfill Trust;
Exploring Our Woodlands