Wildlife Explorers and their families undertook a long and sometimes winding journey to the Welsh coastal town of Borth.
The weekend started proper with Explorers meeting early on Saturday morning at Ynyslas National Nature Reserve. As well as the beach and remarkable sand dunes of Ynyslas the reserve also includes Cors Fochno, an internationally important peat bog and the Dyfi Estuary, an internationally important feeding ground for thousands of wading birds.
There was an exceptionally high tide so those who parked on the beach made sure that they were as high up as possible!
We assembled at the Visitor Centre where families were welcomed and Leaders handed out the equipment for the weekend. It was a huge bonus to have grasshopper warblers showing well and singing at the edge of the car park.
No one was surprised that Leader Martin had brought along a silly hat (this time a rather elegant pink flamingo) but the co-ordinating shell bra certainly raised a few eyebrows.
Ynyslas Ranger Catherine joined us to give us an introduction to the reserve and the importance of the shifting dunes as a wildlife habitat. Everyone was fascinated to learn how the approach to the management of such a diverse habitat has changed over time.
Catherine then lead a short walk over the dune system to North Point where we got we got excellent views of waders at the peak of the tide. We were excited to spot Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Whilst the group waited for the tide to recede everyone was challenged to make a wildlife sand sculpture. (When prizes were awarded in the evening Hope and Janneke’s brilliant 3D jellyfish won out!). With the tide now going out we could walk safely back to the Visitor Centre along the high tide strandline.
Everyone joined in making ‘Human Sculptures’ including a sea anemone and seaweeds.
Then it was time for ‘Sand Experiments’. The children (armed with straws and trays of water and sand) helped Leaders demonstrate how wind creates waves, the effect of wave action on coasts and how water flowing to the coast forms streams and rivers. Explorers examined the tiny particles that make up sand and looked for micrometeorites with powerful magnets and magnifiers.
Everyone headed back to Borth for lunch. The afternoon would be spent exploring the beach and rockpools at Borth. The first task was to get arty, Lead by Leader Helen everyone worked together to create an impressive ephemeral sculpture of a Harbour seal and her pup. We used the grey and white stones on the beach to great effect.
Leader Martin even recorded the process in time lapse photography!
We learned about the petrified forest at Borth and the prehistoric footprints that had been found there. We even made some dinosaur footprints of our own, then we used tiger tracers to examine contemporary tracks left on the beach.
With nets and trays in hand we then set out to look at the wildlife in the rockpools. Barnacles and limpets studded the rocks and the pools were packed with anemones and shrimps.
Strandline finds included mermaids purses, jellyfish, flatfish, a variety of seaweeds and a selection of sea urchin tests.
There were some interesting jelly-like items that Leaders are still struggling to identify. (Do get in touch if you have any ideas!)
Some games with the parachute and beach balls helped to warm everyone up. Then it was out on the sand flats with kites to take advantage of the breeze. Braver members of the group even rolled up their trouser legs for a paddle.
On Saturday evening we headed to Borth Community Hall for an indoor meeting on coastal wildlife. With a ‘Seaside Story Runaround’ and some more running round games to begin with we also tried ‘Coastal Playdough Charades’ – testing everyone’s modelling and guessing skills.
Orders were collected for fish and chips and Leaders headed to the nearby Acorn takeaway (highly recommended!). It was very quiet as everyone tucked in whilst watching film clips on coastal wildlife and red kites.
No indoor meeting is complete without a brilliant craft. Leader Helen had devised a ‘make your own rockpool’ – some fantastic underwater designs were created and laminated. To take home. Children also made flags for the following day’s ‘Sandcastle Competition’.
After a very busy day in the fresh air – we all headed home at 9pm fort an early night and to recharge our batteries for Sunday’s activities.
On Sunday morning families met at the RSPB reserve at Ynys Hir. It was gloriously sunny and sheltered from the wind.
The first activity was a birdwatching walk around the woodland and boardwalk.
Explorers took photos and made notes in their weekend diaries. Bluebells were out, carpeting the woods with beautiful flowers and we also identified stitchwort, ground ivy, dog violet and cuckoo flower.
Damselfly were on the wing and butterflies (including peacock and orange tip) were flying in the sun.
There were plenty of birds singing – chiffchaff, willow warbler, garden warbler and blackcap. As well as identifying the bird by song we also managed to spot many of them amongst the new leaves. Everyone was delighted to spot pied flycatcher – we had great views.
The visit to the reserve concluded with a chance to pond dip. The water was full of incredible creatures. Amongst the pondweed we found newts (adult and young), fierce beetle larvae, damselfly and dragonfly larvae, water boatmen, phantom midge larvae and water beetles.
Sunday lunch was organised at Bwlch Nant yr Arian. Bwlch Nant yr Arian is found at the head of a dramatic valley, commanding views of Cardigan Bay and the Cambrian Mountains. It is well-known for its long established tradition of daily feeding of red kites, Wales’s National Bird of Prey. Some of the group had pre-ordered sandwiches from the lovely catering team at the Visitor Centre. We crowded round the most sheltered picnic tables and enjoyed watching the redpoll and siskin visiting the well bird feeders.
Although the weather was cool and breezy we were incredibly lucky and avoided the forecast rain. The whole group completed the nature trail quiz around the lake. Explorers took it in turns to read out clues and we all searched for the creatures on the sides of the path.
We found great locations to watch the red kites as they gathered for the daily feeding at 3pm. As well as swirling above us, large numbers of kites sat on the hillside in anticipation. Activity was more pronounced and all the birds took to the air as the Ranger walked down with a barrow of butcher’s scraps to treat the birds. Some explorers lay on picnic blankets to get an amazing view of the birds circling overhead.
The sight of around 200 of these beautiful birds of prey swooping down to feed was incredible. We all felt very privileged to be able to see this iconic species close-up. The afternoon was completed when one of the rangers came to talk to us about the kites and their re-introduction.
The group headed back to Ynyslas to make the most of the proximity of the beautiful sandy beach. Families had been planning and preparing all weekend for the ‘Sandcastle Competition’. Using their flags to top off the designs, Explorers made a wide range of designs incorporating features like moats and turrets. Two of the sandcastles were even replicas of castles featured in ‘The Lord of The Rings’. It was an incredibly hard decision but a winner had to be selected and Erin and her family were victorious.
The finale of the weekend was the Wildlife Explorers Beach Obstacle Course. 4 teams of mixed adults and children competed (and they were very competitive!) against the clock with time penalties awarded for missing or failing some of the obstacles. Everyone had to fast step through a set of hula hoops, squeeze through two more hula hoops, throw bean bags to a target, run between two poles, wriggle through a tunnel sprinkled with wet sand, complete an egg and spoon dash, crawl under a net of strings alarmed with bells (penalties for setting them ringing) through clumps of seaweed with a frantic sack race to the end. (Sacks were one size only and not the easiest for taller people to master).
Incredibly J.C. had already spent the day competing in a cycle race and still came second in the individual times overall! The winning team celebrated with cheers and prizes – everyone else celebrated surviving!
The weekend seemed to be over much too soon. There were lots of fantastic memories though!
We would like to thank all of those families who travelled to Borth to share our weekend. We hope you enjoyed every minute as much as we did.
Thank you also to our lovely team of Leaders – such a lot of hard work went into creating a truly memorable weekend. From planning and logistics, coming up with environmental art ideas, gathering and transporting the huge amount of equipment and props to collating food orders, running all the games and activities and the all important chip shop run. Plus recording it all in photographs and on social media. Well done all!
Disclaimer – you may have heard rumours that Leader Tina got lost on every single journey taken over the weekend. This is only nearly true.
Here is the species list for the Wild Weekend!
Birds Blackbird Blackcap Blue tit Buzzard Canada goose Carrion crow Chaffinch Chiffchaff Chough Coal tit Cormorant Dunnock Gannet Goldfinch Grasshopper warbler Great tit Greenfinch Grey heron Herring gull House martin House sparrow Jackdaw Little egret Magpie Mallard Manx Shearwater Mute swan Oystercatcher Pheasant Pied flycatcher Pied wagtail Red kite Redpoll Reed bunting Ringed plover Sandwich tern Sedge warbler Shag Shelduck Siskin Skylark Starling Swallow Teal Whimbrel Whitethroat Willow warbler Wren