Reluctant feet have put on new school shoes and it isn’t long before the summer holidays are a distant memory. Our summer visitors have watched, drawn and attempted to identify bumble bees, measured trees to estimate their ages, made pine cone hedgehogs, starling finger puppets and bird feeders.
As usual, the star family activity of the summer has been dissection of owl pellets. Little do the local barn owls know that the indigestible remains of their suppers, privately coughed up in neat pellets, have provided so much intrigue and speculation. Once soaked in water, the gentle teasing away of the softened fur of the prey starts to reveal clues about the identity of the victims. Tiny bones from voles and shrews emerge and it’s amazing how complete a lot of them still are. With a good guide sheet, families have even been able to identify ear cavities. And what joy when a complete skull is revealed! Some pellets contain two or three of them. Occasionally the remains of small birds are found, leg bones and beaks. But perhaps the most exciting, and for some strange reason ‘personal’ finds, are tails from small mammals, still slightly furry. Maybe it’s because we can imagine these being the very last part of the wriggling, live prey to disappear through the beak and into the depths of the owl’s stomach. Apart from being something out of the ordinary for children to do during the holidays, this activity is a great way to engage them with the natural world and the idea that everything in nature is linked. It illustrates the food chain in action.
In a nutshell, that’s what Flatford Wildlife Garden is about. In the garden we aim to look after all the smallest creatures and thence the bigger creatures higher up the pecking order too. Without them, how much poorer we would all be, if we could survive at all.
photo by David Braddock (rspb-images.com)