Mammal Detective

Today’s activity is by my fabulous colleague Dr Colin Lawton who is our departmental mammal expert. Colin spends lots of time monitoring mammal populations and really knows how to recognise a mammal from the signs they leave behind. Burrows, droppings, paw prints and more – Colin is a true mammal detective. He’s made a pdf to tell you how to do it!

2 Minute Beach Clean

I saw this terrible video on Twitter last week of a machine that was designed to ‘clean beaches’. It basically scooped up 6 inches of sand and everything on top of it and sieved it through a fine mesh to leave nice clean sand. I wanted to scream “What about all the little animals!”. Yes, folks, that lovely sand is full of little critters, and lots of our gorgeous shore birds like those little critters for their tea. The only way to clean a beach is by hand. So this weekend, why not do a 2 minute beach clean. Not convinced? You will be – watch this:

So how do you do a 2 minute beach clean? Simple, pick up litter for 2 minutes. Take a snap of what you found, and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #2minutebeachclean. Take care you don’t touch sharp objects and always wash your hands with soap or take hand sanitiser with you.

If you want to get more involved with caring for your local beach, then check out the Clean Coasts Website: https://cleancoasts.org. The 2MinuteBeachClean is their initiative. They’ll show you how to join a regular beach clean, or organise your own beach cleaning group, and you too can become an ocean hero.

Practice Leave No Trace

Below are seven tips to encourage the kids in your life to practice Leave No Trace.

  1. Know Before You Go. Kids have few choices in life; therefore, finding opportunities to give choice helps build buy-in and confidence. When planning an outdoor adventure, gain kids’ input. Have them research the weather forecast and plan the best clothing to wear, provide trail choices within their ability, and allow them to choose their lunch and snack food.
  2. Choose the Right Path. Play a game of “ninjas and detectives.” Encourage children’s imaginations while guiding their powers of awareness and conscious foot-stepping with the power of role-playing. Ask them to pretend they are ninjas or spies—or any characters that require them to observe their surroundings without leaving “clues” as to where they have been. Parents can play “detective” to follow the ninjas’ trails as they attempt to remain unseen and unheard.
  3. Trash Your Rubbish. Play “I spy” with rubbish by creating a competition among kids (or between kids and parents) to see who can collect the most litter. This activity gets kids thinking about the accumulation of rubbish and its impact on parks and communities. Ensure you use gloves and do not collect any PPE or briken glass. See can you guess how long the different items take to break down.
  4. Respect Wildlife. Kids are naturally fascinated by animals they encounter outside, often wanting to touch or get close to them. Help them to understand how close they can safely be from an animal by asking them to stand with one arm raised straight out at shoulder height with their thumb up. Ask them to look at the animal with one eye closed and try to cover it with their thumbs. If they are far enough away, their thumbs will completely block sight of the animal.
  5. Minimise the risk of fire. When camping, play a firewood relay race. Create groups of two or more (or have a competition between children and parents). The objective is to gather dead and downed firewood of appropriate size. Once retrieved, sequence the firewood from smallest to largest in diameter. Any firewood larger than kids’ wrists are disqualified. The team with the most appropriate firewood wins. Finish this game by explaining that firewood should be no larger in diameter because it takes too long to burn into ash, hindering the decomposition process.
  6. Leave What You Find. Give kids a camera to take photos of treasures they find on the trail. Use a photo collage application, such as PhotoLab, to encourage creativity and save and share their outdoor adventures. This reinforces that they can keep the memory while leaving the objects themselves in nature.
  7. Be Considerate of Others. Encourage kids to be inclusive and polite when playing outdoors. Model and teach good manners, such as sharing the trail with others, and avoid bad behaviours, such as talking on phones while exploring.

Nature Diary Early July

Time is flying. Difficult to believe it’s time for another Nature Diary! We are into July, and seeing different flowers and butterflies on our walks. And there are baby birds everywhere. Check out the Nature Diary for 2nd – 15th July to find out what you might see, smell and hear over the next fortnight.

Rainbow Art

Making Rainbow Art


Making rainbow rainy day art is a simple and fun STEAM activity for kids. All you need are some washable markers, watercolor paper or heavyweight card, and the desire to have fun and get creative on a rainy day.

If you really want to try this activity but don’t have any rain in the forecast, we recommend using a watering can to ‘rain’ on your drawings.

It is easy to create a light sprinkling of water that can easily transform rainbow drawings into rainbow rainy day art with a small watering can.

If you choose this method, take your watering can outside with your rainbow art and use it to rain on your drawing. You can create rain art with a watering can in the bathtub, a shower, or a large sink.

STEP 1 – INVITE CHILDREN TO DRAW ON HEAVY WATERCOLOR PAPER OR CARD USING A RAINBOW OF COLORS
Have your children draw a rainbow invite them to create artwork and doodles using all of the colors of the rainbow in any way they choose.

STEP 2 – PLACE RAINBOW RAINY DAY ART OUT IN THE RAIN

Place your rainbow drawing out in the rain and watch what happens. Children love watching the rain create new art!

Alternatively, you can put rain art outside and set a timer to go back and check it in a few minutes, but don’t leave it out too long in heavy rain or it will all wash away!

No rain? No problem!! Use a watering can to rain down on your artwork.

STEP 3 – ALLOW RAINY DAY ART TO DRY
Pick up your rainbow rainy day art and carefully bring it inside to allow to dry. Hold it as flat as possible when you carry it in–watch out it can drip!

The colors may shift and change depending on how much water is on the paper. Watching the colors move on wet paper is also loads of fun for kids!

Ocean Cams

It’s raining again in Galway, so today’s marine activity is an indoor one! Looking at visitor stats on the website, it looks like you all really liked the animal cams. So here today are some more, but today’s are all marine. These CAMS are all hosted on explore.org so if you want to find more of your own, that’s where to go.

The first camera is in the waters of a small island off the coast of California. This is a kelp forest in the eastern Pacific. Kelps are very large seaweeds and they really help increase biodiversity by providing homes for many small animals.

The next camera is a ‘shark cam’. This camera is on the other side of the USA, off North Carolina. So this is the other side of the Atlantic to Galway. Lots of people are afraid of sharks, but they are amazing and wonderful animals which have very few impacts on humans. To find out more about sharks, check out the Florida Museum website.

And the third camera often has killer whales in its view finder. It’s in the Johnstone Strait in British Columbia off the west coast of Canada. I only watched for a couple of minutes, and yes I did see a killer whale! It’s very unusual for killer whales to come into such shallow water, but there’s some pods in the NE Pacific that do this quite a bit.

When these cameras aren’t live, they tend to show “highlights” reels. These are great too, but be sure to check back and see if you can see live ocean fun!

Create a ground beetle habitat to encourage biological pest control in your garden

Ground beetles are one of the most species rich groups of insects – there are about 40,000 species worldwide and around 350 species in Ireland and Britain alone. Still, chances are that you might not have noticed them as they are often only active at night but also because many of them are very fast runners that won’t wait around for anyone to get a closer look! Our species range in size from just 1.5mm to 35mm and while many are dark coloured (especially those active during the night), some day-active species are vividly metallic. Not all ground beetle species have functional wings and flight is used mainly for dispersal so most of their life is spent on the ground (hence their name!). Like in butterflies, the life cycle of a ground beetles is egg -> larva -> pupa -> adult with the larvae looking completely different to the adult beetle. It is unlikely that you will find any of these, as they usually live underground.

Larva of the European gazelle beetle Nebria brevicollis

The easiest way to find out which species you might already have in your garden, is to put out a few pitfall traps over night and see what you catch – don’t forget to set them free again afterwards! This earlier blog post shows you how to create one: https://natureathome.org/2020/04/11/bug-hunt/ and this website has photos and descriptions of most Irish and British species: http://www.habitas.org.uk/groundbeetles/taxonlist.html Many common carabids you are likely to find in your garden are great at helping to control common pests such as slugs, aphids or caterpillars and are sometimes described as ‘biological pest control agents’. They have very large jaws called mandibles that make them effective predators – you can see these well in the top picture. They also have a great appetite and are able to eat up to their own body weight in food per day! So just like bees and other pollinators, ground beetles are generally considered to be ‘beneficial insects’ and you should be sure to keep them around and help protect your flowers and veggies from pests.

Two common ground beetle species that you might find in your garden and that will help you with pest control are the Bronze carabid Carabus nemoralis (20-26mm, top) and the Strawberry ground beetle Pterostichus melanarius (13-17mm, bottom). AfroBrazilian / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

To make your garden more attractive for ground beetles (and many other beneficials that will eat your pests like centipedes, rove beetles or spiders), you can offer them undisturbed, dark areas where they can shelter during the day and the winter, such as piles of stones, leaves or dead wood. Details on how you can create these spaces can be found here: https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/five-habitats-to-make-for-beetles/

For a more permanent structure and a fun project, you can also create a ‘beetle bump’ for your own garden, a miniature version of a beetle bank. These are raised mounds of soil planted mainly with native grasses between or within agricultural fields, that offer the beetles and other beneficials a permanent, undisturbed habitat with dryer conditions in winter and more even temperatures year round. Beetle banks can be several hundred meters long but for the scale of a garden, a ‘beetle bump’ works just fine. By adding a few tall growing wild flowers to the bump, you can also attract pollinators or other predatory insects such as hoverflies and parasitic wasps, but be sure to choose flowers that are able to compete with the grasses. The ‘beetle bump’ is best created in either August/September or between March and May, which are the optimal times for grass establishment. It is important that it is disturbed as little as possible after the grasses are established, especially in winter when most beetles are sheltering. And of course, pesticides should be avoided in your garden as they are often also toxic to the beneficials – and you and your pets!

Find your tree twin

There’s a special tree in every wood thats just waiting to meet you! All you have to do is find it.

Today take a walk in your local woods and see if you can find your tree twin. Maybe you can take a photo of you with your tree twin and visit it on a regular basis to watch it change through the seasons. Follow the simple instructions on the Sheet below and remember always to follow the Leave No Trace principles. #respectnature #leavenotrace

Head on a summer Stroll

Take a stroll in the woods

Summer is a wonderful time for a wander around the woods. Escape the heat and enjoy a walk under the dappled, cool shade of the tree canopy. Watch as bees and butterflies glide from flower to flower in search of nectar, and see if you can spot deer, foxes or squirrels on your way around the wood. Before you go, talk toyour children about Leave No Trace and the importance of planning for your outing. Where will you go? Are dogs allowed, where will you park if you drive? Its important to check on the weather forecast so you are prepared for any changes in the weather, Repack any picnic foods into reusable containers so you will not bring any unnecessary packaging into the outdoors.

picnic in Fingle Woods

Credit: Adam Burton / WTML

Pack a picnic

The warm, sunny days that summer supplies us with are perfect for picnicking. Get your family and friends together, adhere to social distancing and pack a picnic and head out to the woods for some food and fun! This is a great opportunity to practise your Leave No Trace principles and bring home all your waste. Just remember you can also collect any litter you see and lead by your example!

Stop and smell the flowers

During the warmer months the woods are filled with a kaleidoscope of colour. Wildflower meadows sway in the warm breeze, the sweet scent of fragrant honeysuckle fills the air and striking foxglove attracts the buzzing of bees.

Watch wildlife

The hazy days of summer are filled with the buzzing of bees, bevvies of butterflies fluttering among the wildflowers and lots of activity from other insects, including grasshoppers, beetles and ladybirds. Reptiles bask in the sun, tiny toadlets venture out of the ponds they were born in and during the evening bats abound in search of prey. Remember the Rule of Thumb – do not get too close to Wildlife.