So the definition of curious is either, something strange and unusual [which yes we definitely are] but the other definition is, eager to know or learn something.
As I get older I don't become less enthusiastic to learn, I feel I become more aware of how much there is to learn and want to learn much more. The more I see, the more I want to know and understand. I feel like a kid some days, as if everything is a brand new, first discovered wonder.
This year after having a few years where I have been outside most days, I feel that some things are just starting to slot into place. I am understanding and observing the wheel of the year turning more than ever, I can observe more and more each year unfolding in nature. I can see the arrival and different stages of plant life, hear the call of a bird as it returns or witness the behaviour and patterns of other creatures.
It's not exactly like I hadn't observed these things before but it is as if the more that you notice, more layers are removed and you are able to see even more underneath.
There is probably an educational model to describe just this. But, that's not the bit I'm interested in right now, I just want to tell you about the cool things that I have discovered this spring.
[It's a particularly appropriate day to do this as Day One of the 30 Days Wild Challenge, run by the Wild Life Trust.]
Bees So top of my Curious list is definitely bees. This Spring, with lots of help from friends and an amazing course run by Matt Somerville, I made a log Hive and installed it in a school that I work in. It has been the most amazing experience, learning about bees so that I could teach the kids. There has been something really exciting and gripping about bees that has caught the imagination of the groups that I work with and I have totally been riding that wave with them. We have been lucky enough to have a swarm of bees move in and we have all been absolutely fascinated watching their behaviour and looking for bees with what we've called "pollen Pockets", flying back to the hive. I won't say too much more, as a full blog of the whole process is coming soon, co-written by one our most enthusiastic Bee Ambassadors, Bonnie, in Year 4. Watch this space.
Bryophytes I went on a Bryophytes ID course with the organisation Plantlife and it was brilliant. Because I was starting from zero and had no knowledge of Bryophytes it was like a tiny adventure, everything was new and was a discovery. Bryophytes are mosses, hornworts and liverworts. It taught me to appreciate what is small and what you don't see. It is also an exciting discovery as it is still an area of flora that is still very much being studied and isn't that common or popular; illustrated well by the fact that many bryophytes don't have common names. I also discovered the hand lens. In order to ID bryophytes a hand lens is needed to look for tiny details and differences particularly as many types are very similar with only small features to set them apart. Then, you want to look at everything through a hand lens of course! Get a hand lens it will change your life. Look at some mosses and it will remind you of the wonder of the small and that many structures found in nature are echoed and repeated on different scales.
Wild Garlic This isn't a new plant to me in itself but this Spring we have been more aware of its stages of growth. We used the leaves as they first appeared for garlic bread, pesto and to wrap a campfire baked Camembert. Later we picked the flower buds and pickled them, what a preserved treasure they are. Then, when the flowers had opened we made a tempura batter and ate them with sweet chilli sauce. Just this week we discovered the seed pods on a walk and they are my new favourite forage snack. Sweet, garlicky, juicy pods. Apparently you can preserve these like capers, so that is our next Wild Garlic experiment. It's obviously a really well know plant but it has been great to get to know it better this Spring.
Large red Damselfly While lying on our bellies with reception class, on the decking of the school pond, we were delighted to see a pair of damselflies. They were pretty easy to identify as Large Red Damselflies due to their obvious colours and also the time of year, as they are one of the earliest Dragonflies to emerge. What was particularly great about this is that the School pond does need some love, attention and planting to really attract the big nature celebrities to it and I hadn't held much hope in spotting anything major. It was a cool mini beast moment for us all.
Field Vole Another school based discovery, of a field vole in the recreated Anderson shelter that the kids love. While putting back a frog that the kids had found in there, we also discovered this new little rodent. I wasn't sure what kind of vole it was as we are also pretty close to a river but a bit of research confirmed that it was a vole of the field variety. Finding a new mammal is definitely a cool moment for the kids-and me.
Froghopper A new creature I found only yesterday in the front garden. Not only is it cool in that it can jump and hop pretty impressively but it's also responsible for the frothy spit stuff found on some plants. Also known as a spittle bug. An easy to ID, new bug.
Herb Robert I saw this herb, in a post of some funky foraging wild chef. I thought, I recognise that plant. Now I have identified it, I see it everywhere, because it is everywhere! The flowers are a pleasant taste, no ugly surprises or bitter after taste. We have had it in salads and it's a really good one to share with kids because it is so common and not bitter or an unusual texture.
Oyster Thief A man on a night time rock pooling event we went to, was quite amused by my enthusiasm for the Oyster Thief. I had never seen such a thing and when you are 44, it's not like you think you know it all but it's such a great surprise to find something in the country where you've lived all of your life that is new and very curious [the strange and unusual definition of the word]. It's so unusual and also we found a few so also fairly common, but I can't believe I have never seen one before. It is a kind of green/brown seaweed that when it is young is like a balloon, and so is sometimes called Balloon Weed. It is balloon like in Spring and then as it ages it becomes a bit more wrinkly and sunken.
Lime leaves Friends of ours eat Lime leaves in their salads all of the time and again it isn't a new tree or new foraged treat in that sense but this year my kids and I have discovered them in new places, the village where we live has a few, the walk to my studio, the walk to the woodland that we use for our outdoor projects. Sometimes, you just home in on a species of something and then you see it and notice it everywhere. The great thing about Lime leaves as a little foraged snack is that it is still soft and edible when beech leaves have matured too much to be tasty.
Technobird So in the fields where we live I have often heard and seen birds flying high and wondered what they were. I was unable to properly identify them for a few years as they were too far away to see and googling bird calls didn't help. One day while listening to my favourite Pod Cast of Adam Buxton he mentioned that one of his listeners had noticed a bird singing in the background of one episode and wondered what it was. Another listener then wrote a message to say that "technobird" as it had been called was in fact a Sky Lark. Now I see and hear Sky Larks all around; Our village, Rough Tor on Bodmin Moor and of all places, Cornwall Services!
Virga Despite being a lapsed Member of the cloud Appreciation Society, I am a massive cloud fan [there is probably a cloud blog in the pipeline somewhere]. It's quite a difficult set of features to learn to Identify really accurately as one cloud form so easily blends into another. This is an ongoing education for me and one I have to try really hard at. It is a commitment. You can ID clouds from forms and height in the atmosphere, which, when you are just a dude on the ground, who knows how high a cloud is? I certainly have no frame of reference! The only thing I can say that helped a bit with this is that when you are on a plane, it is well demonstrated and becomes obvious that you are above the stratus and some types of cumulus clouds. A phenomenon that I have observed and painted or photographed, I have discovered has a name. The rain that comes from a cloud but never hits the ground is called a Virga. You know you've probably seen it in a Turner sky or a nineteenth Century giant American Sublime Landscape. Look out for it, it's cool.
Chiton A bizarre, definitely curious in the strange way, creature, that resembles a flat, stuck to a rock woodlouse with no legs. What makes these special and exciting is that these little sea dudes have fossils that stretch back over 400 million years! I saw one of these for the first time just a few weeks ago.
Cuckoo So, clearly not a new bird to me, but not that common in Cornwall, I was super excited to hear one for the first time on a bit of protected SSSI land near to me. So excited, I took all of my kids to listen and we heard it again, right on cue. This is one of the bird calls that we learn in school because it is easy, but I had never heard it in real life. I went back to the kids in school and was pleased to tell them that I'd heard it and that we were doing a pretty good job of replicating it's call.
What would be your top 10 new discoveries this Spring?