Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Tuesday activity

Morning All,
Yesterday's post was looked at by 84 people and hopefully you have, or will, get a chance to send the results in. Hope you found it useful and the results were a success. I'll do more art ones each Monday as I can use a Sunday to get them prepared. Suggestions and requests always welcome. Usual contact details or just leave a comment below.

The weather looks to be bright and warm(ish) today so another outside one today.

How about design a garden nature trail. This could just be the start of this and can be added to when new things are seen. Just need:
crayons or felt tips or paint
twigs, bbq skuas or short pieces of garden cane.

Take a wander around the garden and look closely. List things you find, however obvious. eg apple tree, daffodil, primrose. Then, take a piece of paper, A5 size perhaps and make a drawing of whatever you found. Colour the drawing, label it with a the name and put a date on it. Attach to a stick and place in the ground where you saw it
Perhaps put a question on the paper by the drawing which another family member has to answer. Don't forget to also count all the things that move as well, so a bird in a tree, bee on a flower, ant on the patio.
Challenge: can you get 10 places in the garden that have a question and a drawing?

Found these whilst I was planting some seeds yesterday, in between the sleet and rain showers. A red kite over the garden and a grey squirrel munching as it quietly sat on the fence.

Do have a go to keep active and doing something the children might enjoy getting involved in. Let me know things that you find. jforgham"at"hotmail.com. Look forward to getting them.


Monday, 30 March 2020

Monday's activity

Morning All,
Well, that weather yesterday was a little unexpected! Hope all is well and thought today I would take myself far out from my comfort zone! I may know the difference between a willow warbler and a chiffchaff but I know very little about doing paintings and art work. Consequently, I thought, as it looks like being an in day, you would like to see a step by step guide to putting together a painting of an ash tree. A simple method. Basically, it is based around the letters V and Y.
Draw the trunk and 2 branches in the shape of a letter Y. Then extended the branches with another Y and add a V in the middle of the branch.
Then, extend the edges of the branch either side of the letter V as shown below. Remember, the pencil lines are the edges of the branches, not the actual branches. You'll be painting between the lines.

The basic design

Now, just keep adding a smaller letter V in between each branch, adding a little more shape and curves. Have a few practice goes and you will get the technique really easily. When you have got it how you like it, get ready to draw and paint. This is my very simple one, but it does work and children love the order of it. Also, they will be proud of their finished piece because it will look like a tree and be colourful. I have kept mine to the bare minimum but I bet loads of far better ones will be completed. I have had success with Year 3 doing this. Their's were always far better than mine.

Let's get ready to go:
Water, brushes, simple paint set and paper.
First, paint the sky to about  1/2 way down the paper. I used A4. The sky can be solid or just streaky like mine. Try mixing colours: oranges, reds, blue. Add a sun, best not central.
Very straight forward
Leave to dry for a few minutes and then draw the tree, extending the branches towards the edge of the paper, but not all the way to the top of the sheet. Try to leave space under the trunk as shown here.

The trunk and 1st 2 branches
Keep drawing the Y and V shapes. Have branches in front of the sun for a sharper effect.
Keep going
Starting to fill the paper. 
Just keep going with the branches, making sure they get thinner at the tops. When you have finished the drawing just get some black paint as the tree will be in silhouette as the sun is behind it. Start painting, moving the brush in the direction the tree grows, i.e. up and down, not across.
Drawing finished: painting started.
As the branches get thinner, you may need a thinner brush.
Coming on.
Continue until the whole tree is completed. It already looks a success. 
Not too bad.
Leave the tree to dry and take a break because that will have taken a lot of concentration. At this point our cat, Norman, decided he wanted to get in on the act!! Fortunately the paint was dry.
Thanks, Norman.
Once Norman had been removed  I got back to it. Next, add a few more details. Perhaps a hedge in the distance, a fence and a gate into the field. I pressed hard here with my pencil so it came out for the photo but a lighter touch is better.
A little perspective. Note hedge gets larger as it comes down the side as it is getting closer to the viewer.

Then, get some brown paint to add a ploughed field as it is a spring or winter scene. You can paint over the gate and fence as long as the lines are still visible.
A little depth added
Now, begin to add colour to the hedge. I used brown and black to continue the silhouette theme but greens are also good.
I painted the hedge in swirly patterns
Then, back to the black paint for the silhouetted gate and fence. Add a few horizontal black lines across the field to give a shadow effect. Maybe add a much smaller tree in the distance.
Not looking too bad!
Now, nearly there. Get some greens and yellows and paint the field in front of the tree. I used the same technique as the sky, just backward and forward motions. Can always paint it in solid colour.
This adds to the perspective. I used 2 greens and a yellow
Finally, as the sun is behind the tree and gate it highlights the picture a little more to add some shadow effect. Once that is done, you're done. Stand back and enjoy your work. Very easy, I hope you agree and a quick piece of work to decorate the fridge door. Don't forget to sign your masterpiece, it will be far better than mine, I can guarantee. 
Could add birds, a pheasant in the field, wild flowers growing up the posts, birds flying or a butterfly on the posts.

Do have a go and I would be really pleased to share your results on this site over the next few days. Just a phone photo to jforgham"at"hotmail.com. I'll look forward to receiving them.
That's the home schooling for today. Not only art and nature, but the branches can be counted in 2's, 4's and 8's. Easy tables work. 
This is the very basic method. The children will be able to then have another go, a forest with a path, animals in the field. They will come up with all sorts of original ideas.
Look out for a new idea tomorrow. Posted here by 10.30am and put on my FB account and Stortford Nature account. Feel free to share this idea, just send the link to whoever. Good luck.

Round up of week 1

Morning All,
As we finished the first week  I thought a quick round up of everything that was reported to me, with great photos.
Birds seen were numerous with loads of garden species observed: Great tit, Blue tit, Long tailed tit, Dunnock, Red kite, Blackbird, Robin, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Common buzzard, Starling, Rook, Carrion crow, Jackdaw, Magpie, Jay, Pied wagtail, Yellowhammer, Song thrush, Mistle thrush, Goldcrest and Mallards. A good list.
Butterflies reported were Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and Small tortoiseshell. Soon the Orange tip will be flying. Look out for the male, a white butterfly with bright orange on the corners of his wings.

Other insects included bee flies, bumble bees, mining bees, bluebottles and a couple of hoverflies. A few spiders, too. Of particular note was the Jumping zebra spider.
Several species of wild flower were also reported: Lesser celandine, green alkanet, primrose, wood anemone, and the first bluebells.
On the mammal front: badgers, foxes, muntjacs and from my garden, plenty of rabbits on the far side of the Ash Valley

All in all, a good start. You may remember I suggested filling a yogurt pot or similar with left over vegetable peelings and damp cardboard. This to be left on a flowerbed, patio or lawn. Set this up and we'll come back to it at the end of the week.

I'll be adding today's challenge soon. An indoor painting one with full instructions. It is a good one with guaranteed results.

Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to look and report things as well as take photos and send them in. I appreciate it.

Buff tailed bumblebee

Comma butterfly, showing the white "comma" marking.

peacock butterfly

Common toad
Badger noted by trail camera in Gerry's garden

Giant cranefly. Photo all the way from Cornwall. Thank you, Mandy and Glenn.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Saturday activity

Morning All,
All good here in self isolation in Little Hadham. A week now and everything going well. Been so lucky with the weather.
Two things to have a go at today:

Make a sweep net to catch insects.
Easy this, just need the correct kit. You need: old tennis or badminton racket, old pillow case, scissors and drawing pins. If you don't have a racket, ask around, bet some neighbours have one tucked away in a shed.

Take the racket and cut off all the strings. Try to get all the pieces out of the rim, too. The knotted ones are the hardest. Take the pillow case (or similar) and attach to the rim with drawing pins and then turn inside out.
Now, find areas of longer grass and weedy areas and sweep the net through this about 5-8 times. Flick the pillow case over the top and then pot what you have found. Try to keep away from blackthorn and bramble bushes. You'll get all tied up with the thorns.

I appreciate it is only March and not a huge amount of insects about but you will, with a little patience, catch several species. Do please send me any photos or put up on Stortford Nature FB pages if you are a member.
In good old fashioned Blue Peter language "Here's one I prepared earlier."

Second Challenge

Grow veg without buying seeds. This is easy to do and children will start to see new growth within a week. Save all the pieces of these foodplants that you normally throw away.

Lettuce: Take the root end with a little leaf growth still on it, place in a saucer of warm water and leave somewhere sunny. When roots begin to grow transfer to a flowerpot with compost and keep in a good warm place.

Celery: Same technique as lettuce. Need to transfer to a larger pot than onion.

Ginger: Take a small piece of ginger that has a small lump on it. This will be the new growth. Place the piece in soil or compost with the lump (eye) facing upwards. Just cover with half an inch of soil, water well and put in a sunny spot.

Garlic: Plant a single clove of garlic in soil or compost in a flower pot about half and inch below the surface, water and leave. Growth will be quick. If you have a clove that has already started sprouting use that one as the garlic when added to cooking will be more bitter.

Onion: Once you have chopped the onion for cooking, keep the flat root end. Plant this in well watered compost and leave somewhere warm. Roots and shoots will appear quite rapidly.

Peppers/Chillies/Squash/Tomatoes: Once you have deseeded these for cooking, keep the seeds in a pot. Wash and leave to dry for a few days and then just plant them like expensive shop bought seeds.

Remember to keep them regularly waterered. Once they are strong enough, transfer to a small plot in the garden, but not before 2nd week of May which is traditionally the last week of frosts for the south east.
Hope you have a go at this and perhaps experiment with other vegetables, eg potatoes and carrots. Just put the top in a saucer of water and  leave.

I have used ones here that give quick returns to keep children interested, others such as pineapple tops and avocado stones take a lot longer to get going.

Have a go and please do send me any photos of what you have set up for others to see. Be great to share your photos. jforgham"at"hotmail.com
Best of luck and have a great day. Be back on Monday with more ideas, some for indoor as the rain is beginning to feature on the weather radar.

Friday's results

Good morning,
Another glorious day yesterday had me out in the garden and from the early hours until dusk. Got loads done and saw plenty. Also very pleased to have had some great photos sent in along with sightings.
First off, a Common toad sent in by Liz from Little Hadham. These creatures will now be making their way to a pond to breed having spent the winter hibernating in leaf litter, holes in the ground as well as sheds and under wooden structures in the garden.
Common toad
Janine sent in a photo of a gloriously colourful Peacock butterfly.
Peacock butterfly enjoying the warmth
Gerry from Much Hadham area runs a trail camera in his back garden. Along with foxes and muntjacs he got this great image the night before last. I wonder what wanders through our garden at night, unknown and unseen.
Me, I didn't get anything so exotic. Bird wise the highlight was two overhead red kites circling with a common buzzard. Another interesting sight was 3 mallards flying around looking for a roost site at about 5.45pm Butterfly, just a comma but plenty of bees and more bee flies.
Mining bee nectaring
Other creatures were also sent in. Here a dock bug climbing up a bin and a great photo taken by Richard in his Stortford garden of a colourful Jay.
Dock bug

Finally, a mothing friend in Stevenage set up a pheromone trap to attract a particularly spectacular moth, The Emperor. Short video of its release here.

Keep the photos and reports coming. My stats page for these posts show that there are plenty of people looking at them. I shall post another activity later so do take a look. This one is about growing vegetables without needing to go an buy expensive packets of seeds. Great activity for children. Tomorrow I shall take a break and be back Monday with more ideas that you may wish to try. Oh, and also check my next post on how to make a really good and easy sweep net to catch insects in long grass and hedges.
Have a lovely day.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Friday activity

Good morning,
Thanks to all that contacted me with their sightings yesterday and forwarding photos. Please do not fuss about the quality of these, if I can see the insect it may well be possible to id it even if not in focus.

As some of you may know, I write a short 1500 word article for our local newspaper, the Bishop's Stortford Independent and next week I need to file my latest article ready for inclusion in the edition due out 8th April. This week's issue was from my garden so don't wish to repeat that for a while so I have an idea.

 Can everyone send me a list of things they have seen. We could turn the article into a real community idea. If you can get a photo even better but for inclusion in the paper they must be over 3Mb in size and in jpeg. All photos will be credited to you.
So, either leave a list in the comments box below with your first name or email it, with photos if possible, to jforgham"at"hotmail.com

 This would give a really good snapshot of what is about in our town and give people the idea to check their gardens, too. There are plenty of folk self isolating now and the local paper will help them keep tabs on the outside world so do get involved. Thank you.

Also, I would be really pleased to receive children's drawings of nature in their garden. Perhaps a painting of a butterfly, a felt tip picture of a bird. If you can get a photo of it to me that would be even better, as large as your phone will allow if you don't have a camera, otherwise, with camera again, in excess of 3Mb

Bee fly that you will find near flowers today.
So, any thing that moves in your garden.
Check the inside of a shed or garage for insects coming out of hibernation. Check flowers and blossom. Check the sky for birds flying by. Got a compost heap? Have a rummage, you'll come across loads of stuff.

Another activity for children: Take an old flower pot or other container with holes in the bottom and start to fill it with vegetable peelings and ripped up cardboard. When full, place it in a sunny corner of the garden and leave alone. We'll take a look at it next week so begin saving up the carrot and potato waste to attract mini beasts. An old yogurt pot will do, but do punch holes in the base.

I look forward to hearing about what you find. Have a wonderful day and I hope you make me very busy this evening and over the weekend!!
Long tailed tit from my garden

Thursday's results

Good morning,
Thanks to all those who recorded birds in their garden yesterday. A glorious day and I spent much time checking my small garden and came across plenty to observe and some to photograph. The birds I saw were:
blue tit, great tit, robin, dunnock, blackbird, rook, jackdaw, carrion crow, red kite, goldfinch, chaffinch, black headed gull and pied wagtail. I got reports of house sparrows and an as yet unidentified bird coming to a feeder in Bishop's Stortford. I await a description but sounds interesting.
rook fly by, note the silver/grey beak

Our resident riobin
I also kept an eye out for insects which were enjoying yet another gloriously sunny day. In particular a comma butterfly, hoverfly species, Eristalis pertinax, 7 spot ladybird and a selection of insects. Renee in Stortford reported a tree bumble bee whilst Christine found another tree bumble bee and a hoverfly species feeding on flowering currant in her garden.

Hoverfly Eristalis pertinax, mostly black with orange/yellow in the middle

7 spot ladybird on green alkanet flowers

Another Eristalis pertinax hoverfly

Comma butterfly

Note the white "comma" on underwing giving this butterfly its name

Finally, I had a rummage around for spiders. Just one in particular, this jumping spider, the Common zebra spider or Salticus scenicis
Common zebra spider
Do have a go at today's activities, a few short ones in my next post. Good luck and keep safe.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Today's suggestions for finding nature in your garden

Good morning,
Please do see the previous post where I have mentioned things that local folk found and the photographs that I received. All great to see.
It doesn't matter how much or how little knowledge you have of identifying creatures to be involved in this and I know so many children that love hunting for bugs, beetles, butterflies etc. If you do get a photo, I am very happy to receive it and make suggestions, if not, send me a description: size, colours, where it was. e.g. Beetle type insect larger than a ladybird that was on the soil, shiny black with ridges on its back. Although there are 2350 beetle species in Hertfordshire alone, just that little bit of info would inform me that it was probably a ground beetle and that it could be a Black clock beetle. Give it a go.

Today is about birds. We all know what a robin looks like, a wood pigeon and a crow or jackdaw. Some of you know the difference between a great tit and a blue tit. So what would be good today would be to get outside for half an hour at a time, perhaps morning and afternoon and just look around for birds. If you don't know what it is, a phone photo may help or just a description of colour, or, of course, just enjoy seeing them and counting different types. Almost all gardens, with some careful watching will give up at least 10 species and don't forget to look in the sky for birds of prey and other species flying over.
Here are a few you may find:
Goldfinch: note red/white/black face and bright gold/yellow on wing when it flies

Chaffinch: grey and pink head, white on wing when it flies

Collared dove: usually in pairs. Fawn colour with black ring on neck

Jackdaw: bright blue eye, all black and noisy. Usually in groups

Long tailed tit: pink/black white with long tail. Usually in pairs or more. Small

Red kite: large, reddy brown and look for the special forked tail. Maybe flying high over your garden, often in a circling pattern and being chased by crows

Goldcrest: Very small and often found in conifer trees and hedges. Usually in pairs at this time of the year

Great tit: yellow tummy with black stripe down the middle

Chiffchaff: small and green. Probably hear it rather than see it. Has a distinct call zip zap zip zap or chiff chaff chiff chaff repeated for a minute or so.

Wood pigeon. Large, grey and with white bar on the wings. Coo Coo call

Blue tit. yellow and blue, no black stripe on tummy

So now, you can be outside, counting birds and seeing if you can identify them, whilst also looking for bees, flies, ladybirds, and butterflies. Plenty to keep you outside on what is going to be another fantastic day. Finally, if you have any yogurt type pots, please keep them for several activities in the future, we'll be making beetle traps. Also, if you have an old piece of carpet, an old doormat or just a brick or stone, put it somewhere in your garden on soil or grass. Do remember, not on your prize lawn, it will kill the grass underneath very quickly. This we shall come back to on another day. 
Remember to send me notes and photos to jforgham"at"hotmail.com or just leave a comment underneath in the comments box. Have a wonderful day and looking forward to hearing about your discoveries. keep sharing these ideas. Take care, Jono.

Yesterday's results

Good Day to all,
Yesterday I was even busier, with 77 people looking at my suggestion, great stuff, keep sharing with folk on Facebook if you like and do remember to send me anything you find, even if it is not part of the daily idea.
I received several messages and photographs from people so thought I would share these first and then add today's suggestion in a separate post.
I received a photo of a comma butterfly from Renee that landed in her garden.
Comma butterfly in Bishop's Stortford
Fellow nature watcher and first class photographer Richard sent me loads from his garden. Here are just a few of his excellent captures using a macro lens for close up work.
7 spot ladybird

Dark edged bee-fly

Click on this Gwynne's mining bee to admire the detail captured here
Another Stortford resident, Graeme sent in a selection from his small garden. Here are a selection.
Green shieldbug

Red Kite over Thorley

A spider species yet to be identified. A job for later this morning

Another Dark edged bee-fly

I had other reports of butterflies, with a Brimstone seen in Bury Green, a flyby orange species, either Comma or Small tortoiseshell in Ware and a Small tortoiseshell over my garden at about 2pm
Thank you for sending these in. Please keep them coming and we will be able to build up a good back catalogue of regular creatures found in gardens so others can use the photos to help identify what they have found.
Me? I got a reasonable selection from my very small garden: 25 yards long 5 yards wide.

Buff tailed bumble bee

First hoverfly of the year, Eristalis pertinax

March Moth

Thanks for sending these in.

This is me

This is me
At the end of another Norfolk Coastal footpath walk. 47 miles, 3 days 99 species of bird. September 2009

Caley Wood view

Caley Wood view
sunshine through the canopy 29.05.08

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007

A walk along the Warta Valley, Poznan, Poland. Feb 2007
Best birds on this walk: black and middle spotted woodpecker and short toed treecreeper

About Me

My photo
A primary school teacher for 30 years, I retired from teaching in July 2009 to set up my own science enhancement and communication company. The Primary Works offers science clubs, workshops and staged science shows nationwide. I have always been interested in bird watching since my early years. Apparently my first tick was after inquiring about a chaffinch and then receiving the Observer book of birds. By the age of 9 I had moved on to Tory Peterson's collins guide and was now involved on YOC birding holidays to Northumbria, Essex coast, Slimbridge and Yorkshire. My twitching rule is that I will willingly travel 1km for each gram the bird weighs. However, I have had many rarities just by being in the right place. I have travelled widely throughout Europe and also visited Australia and Sri Lanka. In 2016 I spent time at Portland Bird Obs and two trips to Aviero, Portugal. 2017 found me back in Sri Lanka in Feb/March, then July and back for New Year's Eve celebrations in December. Also returned to The Camargue in May for a 4 day trip. Few plans for 2018, but nothing yet booked apart from a trip to the IOW.

Grey heron

Grey heron
Over the allotment 28.09.08

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker
Ridge footpath 27.08.08

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)

Juvenile green woodpecker (17.08.08)
Note the stripes, denoting a bird fledged this year.

common blue

common blue
Ash Valley G.C. 15.08.08

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)

Indian balsam (impatiens glandulifera)
River Ash

azure damselfly

azure damselfly
River Ash 28.07.08

marbled white

marbled white
Discovered at Westland Green 22.07.08

ruddy darter

ruddy darter
Bush Wood 21.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08

honeysuckle 19.07.08
growing in hedgerow in Chapel Lane

cinnabar moth caterpillar

cinnabar moth caterpillar
Photographed on ragwort 19.07.08


Study of petals 11.06.08

male yellowhammer

male yellowhammer

common blue butterfly

common blue butterfly

River Ash

River Ash
looking south from the bridge at Hadham Ford

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)

Common poppy (papaver rhoeas)
in rape field 29.05.08

Caley Wood sunshine

Caley Wood sunshine

Millenium Wood fox

Millenium Wood fox

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)

common comfrey (symphytum officinale)
06.05.08 banks of the River Ash

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)

Garlic Mustard or Jack by the Hedge,(Alliara petiolata)
flowers, leaves and fruit edible . Good in salad and pesto

April showers

April showers
Double rainbow 30.04.08

Caley Wood bluebells

Caley Wood bluebells

Yellow Archangel

Yellow Archangel
Chapel Lane (20.04.08)

sunlight 16.04.08

sunlight 16.04.08
looking south west from Bush Wood

snowy buds

snowy buds
06.04.08 in Bush Wood

Looking north west

Looking north west
05.04.08 evening shower approaching

Back Garden

Back Garden
Easter Sunday (23.03.08)

Brick Kiln Hill

Brick Kiln Hill
Looking east (23.03.08)

No play today

No play today
The 2nd hole at Ash Valley golf course

Teasel head

Teasel head
Bush Wood (21.03.08)


daffodils at Bush Wood pond (21.03.08)

Swollen River Ash

Swollen River Ash
The river at the bottom of Winding Hill 16.03.08

Daybreak over the chapel

Daybreak over the chapel
Thursday 13th March

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus)
growing in Bush Wood

January snowdrops

January snowdrops
Banks of River Ash, north of Much Hadham

Good Moon

Good Moon
From garden 24.01.08

Village Green

Village Green
Looking east towards Acremore Street

Looking south before Hadham Ford

Looking south before Hadham Ford
rare January blue sky

Useful sites

The following are some useful websites that may interest readers of this blog.
Firstly, Bishop's Stortford Natural History Society http://bsnhs.webplus.net/

Fellow birder, Gary Whelan's blog. Gives reports from our trips out together plus reports from his trips abroad. http://hairybirders.blogspot.co.uk
http://www.hertsbirdclub.org.uk/ The official herts bird club website. Frequently updated, listing bird sightings around the county. Offers links to many other websites. Both of these sites also offer links to yahoo discussion groups.
http://www.birdforum.net/ An international site. You can enter as a guest but become a member( free) to post comments, bird sightings and just about anything to do with wild birds. Good news updates, classified section for binoculars, cameras etc.
http://www.guidedbirdwatching.com/ A new site set up where you can contact people worldwide who will help you find good birds in their country. UK section being set up presently.
Fellow birders blog. Strtford resident, Graeme Smith regulary birds the area south of Stortford as well as around Spellbrook and the River Stort from Spellbrook to Twyford Locks. Some superb bird photography: Graeme uses a digital camera attached to his powerful telescope to get detailled images of the birds he sees. Well worth a browse.
Two local sites that may be of interest can be found at
http://www.thehadhams.com/ www.thepelhams.net/content/section/12/139/

South Easterly walk

South Easterly walk
black, normal, red extended walk

South Westerly route.

South Westerly route.
Black usual, red extended

North Easterly walk

North Easterly walk
black short, walk. Red, extended

North West Patch

North West Patch
black route regular. Red route the extended wander