We had a fabulous Easter break. The weather was mild and sunny. Not hot, but temperatures of about 16C (60F) didn’t stop my kids getting wet at every opportunity.
(1) This birthday banner was inspired by the Colwell Crew – thanks Angie, J(9) loved it.
(2) & (4) J(9) asked for a cake based on his Minecraft skin so C(9) made him a delicious chocolate fudge cake topped with his Minecraft skin drawn using GIMP and printed on rice paper. (I’m not sure how edible printer ink is but mostly we peeled it off before we ate!) (3) A birthday visit to Legoland.
This week we’re easing into the summer term (UK schools don’t break up for summer until mid July). The way we homeschool, that doesn’t mean a huge change.
During “term time” there’s more reading aloud, board games and mulling over maths puzzles. I strew, and I suggest copywork and poetry tea. We do science experiments.
But on days like today when both my children are busy writing fan fiction on their computers, I feel so thankful we don’t have a set agenda and I can leave them to follow their inspiration while I share a few of my favourite memories with you.
The more we visit our pond, the more we enjoy it. These days, when it’s so easy to travel far and wide, it’s such a treat to spend time becoming intimately familiar with one special place. I continue to be so appreciative of Angelicscalliwags for inspiring us to to this.
The swans were the stars of the show at our pond this April. Back at the start of the month we noticed that they had built a nest on the island.
The following week we witnessed some very beautiful swan rituals. C(9) said it looked like they were synchronised swimming.
There is a final photo in the series but I’ll spare your blushes and show you this preening close-up instead!
Bird Ringing Scheme
Later, one of the swans gave us an excellent view of its leg, on which it wore a metal ring. By zooming in on the photo, we could read that the ring was labelled “BTO British Museum Nat Hist London SW7”.
We looked this up when we got home, and learned about The Ringing Scheme, which allows members of the public to report sightings of ringed birds.
The rings on the Ringing Scheme website had numbers on, but we couldn’t find a number on our swan’s ring. C(9) has emailed the Ringing Scheme to find out more about this.
The coots are also nesting. They’ve picked an excellent spot, at the edge of the pond but very well concealed. I was only able to get this (very zoomed in) photo from the far side of the pond.
Our female coot has been sitting on her nest for the last few weeks. The incubation period is just over three weeks so we should see coot chicks at our pond very soon! (When we were wondering about the correct name for the young coots, J(8) suggested that they should be called “cuties”. That one may stick :-))
The male coot, meanwhile, has been much less shy.
We admired how green the trees and plants around the pond have become, and brought a few small samples home to paint.
Life at our pond is hotting up. We’ve noticed new signs of spring each week since our first trip. One of the most welcome is the temperature – so mild, we were actually able to sit on our blanket and quietly watch the pond for a while, which was heavenly!
Nesting and Mating
This week’s big excitement was a swan nesting on the island. At least it looked like it was sitting on a nest. When it briefly got off the nest we didn’t see any eggs, but we supposed they were buried within the nest to stay warm? (Or was it practising??! We’re all learning around here!)
We saw a coot swoop low over the pond with a short willow branch in its beak. It landed near the base of a willow tree where we later spotted it on its nest.
Some of the mallard ducks had found mates – we counted at least two pairs – but the male mallards still heavily outnumber the females.
Identifying Our Birds
We’ve seen one pair of geese at our pond with very unusual markings. When we got home we used the excellent online RSPB bird identifier to work out that they are Egyptian Geese (how exotic!). Apparently these geese were introduced to ornamental ponds and have now begun to breed in the wild.
This very sweet little thing was dabbling around the “moat” by the island on its own. It was very tame, and quite talkative. The RSPB bird identifier wasn’t able to help us with this one. Our best guess is that it’s a juvenile of some sort. If you have any idea what it is, please do let me know!
We also saw a pair of jackdaws and – far off in the distance – a pied wagtail (thank you, RSPB identifier!).
The willow tree that J(8) has chosen to study has begun to grow leaves.
We brought a bit home to sketch. I love how when you draw something you see it in a totally new way. Mixing up watercolours helped us focus on the leaf colours, too.
Angelicscalliwags’ One Year Pond Study has had me excited about nature study in a way that hasn’t happened since … well, ever! Like angelicscalliwags, we’ve tried using an assortment of books, blogs and curricula for inspiration but nothing seemed to stick, so I contented myself knowing that with daily dog walks in the woods and by the river, summers at the beach and hours playing in our garden, C(9) and J(7) have plenty of opportunity to experience nature first hand.
But the idea of observing a local ecosystem regularly over the seasons really captured my imagination. So a couple of weeks ago we set off to get better acquainted with our own beautiful local pond.
I didn’t have any agenda for our first visit to the pond, other than to let the children explore and for me to observe what interested them. They were keen to take their nature study notebooks which I’d retrieved from the back of a shelf (last entries, May 2011 – ahem!)
What is a pond?
One of C(9)’s first questions was “Why do we call this a pond and not a lake?”
When we researched the answer later, we discovered some experts say that the difference is just about size, while others say it has to do with depth: ponds are shallow enough for plants to grow across the entire pond bottom. This area where plants can grow is known as the “photic zone”, meaning the sun’s rays can reach the bottom.
We also discovered that a person who studies bodies of fresh water is called a limnologist, from the Greek “limne” meaning “pool” or “marsh”.
We saw mallard ducks – “about four male ducks for every female”, C(9) noted in her journal.
A pair of Canada geese.
Even evidence of moles – our puppy (happy to be finally let out of the car once we were safely away from the swans) was especially interested in these!
We saw daffodils in bud.
And in bloom.
J(7) picked a willow tree to draw.
C(9) tested the temperature of the water and was surprised to discover that at 5℃ (41℉) the pond was warmer than the air (2.9℃ /36℉).
Pond temperature has higher resilience than air, so it is slower to lose heat following cool air conditions. While air may have high daily temperature variation, water remains relatively constant. (Now we know why we often see steam over the river on winter mornings.)
An unexpected bonus – Frogspawn!
We struggled to find a benchmark to measure the water level in the pond, but we know it must be pretty high because the surrounding meadow area was covered in large puddles. It was in one of these puddles that we were excited to discover a jelly-like substance with lots of little black dots in – frogspawn!
My mum said experts are concerned about frog reproduction this spring because with the late cold snap, ponds are too cold for frogspawn. Well our local frogs had found a solution – we just hope the puddles don’t dry up too soon!
Also in the unexpected category – C(9) found a solitary egg drifting around the edge of the pond!
Our pond is in the middle of a popular dog-walking area, so we were find a tiny island which is close enough to shore for us to observe, but provides a small wildlife sanctuary from humans and their pets.
Surprising local history
When we looked up the name of our pond (which is in the next village, about 5 minutes’ drive away) we discovered some fascinating local history: until the 1970’s, naked bathing was permitted there! There were changing huts (for those with more modesty, we speculated?) and even a lifeguard in attendance at 630am on summer days. How times have changed since I was a child!
What a great time of year to begin a pond study. After a long winter with nothing much happening, nature is preparing to burst into life before our eyes. And as we braved the snow flurries (on 25 March!) I imagined how pleasant it will be to spend time pond-side when the spring sunshine finally arrives!
Day 5 of the experiment and it’s going pretty well. I seem to be waking up earlier and earlier (545 this morning!) but that’s not a bad thing as the clocks go forward to British Summer Time tomorrow. I’m finding the time in bed just after waking naturally is perfect for catching up on blogs in my Byline reader. I didn’t do so well remembering to take breaks yesterday – I found myself doing that one-thing-leads-straight-into-another thing for most of the afternoon. I managed to find 15 minutes to meditate in My Room just before taking C to Stagecoach but when that was interrupted by J ringing the doorbell (for reasons still unknown :-|) my reaction told me I could have done with a few of those short breaks earlier! But at least we made the most of the continuing warm weather.
C helped me sow some carrot seeds. According to the notes that came with our vegetable planter, carrots are super-easy to grow; but then someone told me they need something called a fine tilth over them, so we dutifully made some tilth with our new potting riddle (so many lovely new words!) and sprinkled it over.
We’ve now got spring onion, lettuce, beetroot and carrot seeds outside, pepper seedlings on the kitchen windowsill, and cucumber, tomato and butternut squash seeds in the propagator. Who knows how much that’s edible that we’ll actually end up with, but the process of watching a seed germinate is so satisfying, this definitely isn’t only about the end product.
Watering the compost in the sunshine gave C a hankering for an outdoor shower herself, so I was persuaded to dig out the sprinkler and hose and those crazy kids played in it for a good half hour then got dry lying in the sun wrapped in towels. Ski tans were topped up! I remember now how much is involved on my part in these kind of summer activities (fetching swimmers & towels, sorting them out afterwards, supervising coming back in to avoid muddy footprints through the house) which accounts for my forgetting to take those breath-stops.
A lovely day in the sun. And I’m ready with the plastic bags to protect our seeds from next week’s threatened frosts!
Yesterday really was the most glorious spring day in our part of the world. My spirits soared as we set off with some home ed friends for an all-day walk in the woods. C only started homeschooling in January so this is the first year we are totally free to enjoy the sunny seasons together – no school run to get back for, no one missing out.
T-shirts were worn.
There was even paddling!
What else have we been doing? C started working on a birthday present for Granny, a cushion with heart motif, her own creation inspired by something she saw in a craft magazine. We are learning this sewing business together and I am joyfully letting go of any vestiges of perfectionism as we do. In the absence of tailor’s chalk (now on the shopping list) we used a felt tip to draw around C’s heart template, figuring no one would see the black line as we’d have the other side face up. A few moments later we realised that some fabrics have a “wrong side” as well as a “right side”! It’s a small thing, but our heartfelt, shared laughter as we realised our “mistake” may have been the best feeling I’ve had all week – you know the kind of laughter where you try to carry on with what you were doing but you start off laughing all over again whenever you catch the other person’s eye? 😀
It was C’s turn to choose a recipe from our new cupcake book. Inspired by Gaynor over on Navigating By The Stars, I thought this would be a fun way of learning new baking skills. Last time J chose maple & pecan cupcakes which were super-yummy and involved a lot of learning about sugar crystals (it took four goes to get the caramelised topping!).
This week we did gingerbread cakes with lemon icing. The recipe used the melting method which I’d never used before. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. The hardest part was getting the syrup and treacle off the tablespoon!
We read Swallows & Amazons as we ate, getting into the spirit of poetry tea which we’re having with Gaynor next week. I’m really looking forward to that.
Today is the library and then our regular free day at home before C’s long Stagecoach class this evening. It makes me realise I’ve been doing pretty well with prolonging the post-holiday glow that this doesn’t feel like a “reward” for a busy few days but rather a natural continuation of a lovely, relaxed week 🙂