Like the seasonal rains that cause some of the driest parts of Africa to temporarily flood, a wet March brought sufficient rain for a significant portion of the Bishop's Field to submerge . Over the course of a few days the rain teemed down and the wetland finally got to self-actualise when it filled like a huge saucer. (After all Wetlands have feelings too...)
Looking at the data below we received 134mm of rain in March which was well above the short term mean. Then in the space of a week the wet spell passed and nice sunny weather arrived. And, just as quickly as it came, the wetland was all but gone again. With the wettest months of the year behind us and higher evaporation and transpiration rates in the months ahead, it is unlikely our wetland will reappear to any great extent again until November or December.
For the last number of weeks we conducted a trial to see how both our grass samples would fair when put through drought conditions. Neither sample was given any water over four weeks on the window sill of the classroom. They still had plenty warmth and sunlight. Pupil Jack Flanagan kept an observation log and at the end of the four weeks he measured the gap which formed between the sides of the soil trays and the soil samples. He found a sizeable difference between both samples. What he discovered was that the poorer soil of the wetland shrank much more than the normal soil. We looked up images of cracked soil in dry parts of the world and found that this occurs due to tension at the soil surface. We proposed that had our soil tray been much larger, similar mudcracks or 'dessication' would have occurred throughout the sample instead of the soil just shrinking in from the edge. Why had the poorer soil shrank more? Our guess was that it was higher in clay content as we had observed lots of clay on digging for the soil weeks earlier and also when conducting our worm count.
In a separate investigation we tried to compare the levels of chlorophyll in the grass of the wetland (poor nutrients) versus normal grass. The idea was to extract the green juice (or leachate?) from the grass and then using acetone as a mobile phase make it climb up pieces of filter paper by capillary action.
In trying to extract the chlorophyll from the grass we had to add some water. This meant we had to reduce our solution afterwards to get rid of the excess liquid and concentrate the green pigment. The problem with this was when it came to putting the chlorophyll onto the filter paper we found that the water was making the spot of chlorophyll travel too far before immersing it in the acetone.
We tried to let the mixture dry out even more before putting it on the filter paper but this resulted in it not traveling at all. We most likely needed a better way to extract the chlorophyll from the grass.
Earlier in the year we spotted what we though might be a fox stool in the middle of the dry wetland. It was highly likely that we were right as it matched very closely to pictures on the internet and also because of the wooded area that lies close to the wetland at the end of the pitch. We decided to set up our trail camera for a month in the hope of catching a glimpse of a fox or other wild mammal. In previous years we had little luck with the trail camera with the footage we gathered consisting of mainly rats and birds.
After a few days of getting birds we got a huge surprise one morning to see grainy footage of a badger on the camera. Finally proof of large wild mammals in the area!
Note: The time stamp was obviously incorrect for this photo. We had forgotten to reset it when changing the batteries!
We could not be totally certain that the animal in the above clip was, in fact, a badger. From the humped back and shape of the tail we decided it is more badger-esq.
What is interesting to remember is that the camera works using a infra-red light which is invisible to the naked eye - the animal was in total darkness at the time.
The following week we were to get lucky again, not once but twice! The clip below was extremely exciting to discover and we were fully able to identify the animal this time - a pine martin. It is called an Cat Crainn in Irish and it is indeed very like a cat in the clip here. We discovered that they are a very elusive, nocturnal species who are rarely seen in the flesh and feed on berries, small mammals, invertebrates, birds and amphibians (the children are always wondering where do our frogs go?).
The morning after the night before...
Before the children collected the camera (around 9am) it captured this lovely footage of a pheasant surveying his surroundings and stretching his wings. Again another example of an animal we would rarely if ever see in the flesh. Although we do hear the pheasant calling regularly to remind us of his presence.
For the trail cameraI project I gave the children complete freedom with where to place the camera and they got a real kick out of getting the footage. Of course there were lots of mornings when the camera had captured no interesting footage and that was a lesson in itself. One of the hardest decisions for the children usually was "...because we have not gotten any footage in X number of nights, should we change the location of the camera?" That dilemma always generated differing views in the class!
Using the trail camera proved a very different and exciting aspect of the project. It can't be measured so much in terms of what the children actually learned, but in the experience they had of getting the footage. The real beauty of the trail camera was that it allowed us to really see some of the wildlife that we would never otherwise see. Nothing is better than seeing real footage of these animals in your local habitat. To find these animals near our school of course means that the area is more biodiverse and that a more complex food web exists. Looking up the animals in class and learning about them was much more interesting and meaningful as a result.
The camera in situ with a "mammal footprint tunnel" in front which we used for a fortnight in conjunction with the camera.
We were hoping to get some footage along with capturing the footprints of the animal on white paper inside the tunnel. With no activity at all over two weeks we proposed that the animals might be suspicious of the sight or smell of it, even if it contained some tasty bait.
In the February post we were awaiting all six of the signs of Spring. As sure as ever all six signs occured in the intervening weeks as the days lengthened and temperatures rose. The children loved doing their observations everyday before school began. It is another reminder how lucky we are in Scoil Íde to be able to observe so much nature on our school grounds.
According to the dates it would appear that overall Spring arrived a little later than last year even though our swallows were almost 3 weeks earlier than in 2014.
Frogspawn Hawthorn Tree H.Chestnut Tree Primrose Ash Tree Swallow
2014 March 5th - - - - April 30th
2015 - March 10th March 26th April 22nd - -
2016 Feb 22nd Mar.16th -3rd Apr. March 16th April 6th April 12th April 18th
2017 March 1st March 15th March 20th April 24th April 14th -24th April 9th
Other matters of course:
As there were only two school weeks in April and I had been spending a lot of time in the school garden with the class, I decided to merge the months of March and April together. Unfortunately, with some very windy weather in the last few days it hasn't been suitable to fly the drone to take the April aerial photo and so it is just the March photo for this blog entry. I hope to add the April photo in the next few days as some good weather is forecast.
Soon the wetland will come alive in a different way as it will be part of our mountain biking course which the children train on for the annual 6th class Junior Triathlon that is coming up in June. It is always great to see a line of children on bikes finding their way on the trail through the tall grass of the wetland. In a few weeks time the children will not only have walked and waded through the wetland at various times during the year, but cycled over too - unimaginable only a few weeks ago!
More to come in May.