Once the hour goes forward and the nights close in, families tend to stay indoors in the evening except for a spooky foray at Hallowe’en and a visit to the fireworks on Bonfire Night. We are no exception but as the kids get a little older I’ve been looking for ways to give them new experiences outdoors, so this year we’ve been exploring the dark.
My youngest is a member of the local Beaver Group (6 to 8 year olds) and this week we went on their night walk to see what we could learn about what goes on under the cover of darkness. Late Autumn is an ideal time to take a night walk as it’s not too cold and darkness falls early enough even for little ones to get out and about with their torches.
Twenty very excited children met at a local nature reserve and as we walked along the path through the willow and alder woodland alongside the chalk stream, dusk stole up behind us.
Once the edges of the path started to disappear into the gloom we stopped to listen to the noises of the night. A nearby waterfall sounded louder than in the daylight and all kinds of unidentifiable rustlings could be heard in the treetops and the undergrowth.
We stared into the fast-flowing water by torchlight noticing how the shadows stood out in the unnatural light and how swiftly the leaves sped past – into the circle of light and quickly out the other side.
Chocolate digestives were handed out and then it was on to the most anticipated part of the evening – bat spotting. Most of the children hadn’t seen bats before (apart from one little boy who assured us he’d seen three already on the walk). They were excited, yet somewhat doubtful that the fabled creature would actually appear. After a few minutes staring at the sky I saw a quick movement behind the trees.
Sure enough, a pipestrelle emerged from the canopy and flew in circles over our heads for several minutes before disappearing into the wood. The children were entranced by its speed and the angular movements of its wings as it turned sharply through 180° at the edge of the clearing.
After a few moments it flew off into the trees and we led the happy, tired beavers back to the streetlit road and their waiting parents.
My daughter is looking forward to visiting her grandparents at the weekend and wearing her Hallowe’en outfit; this year it’s a bat costume that my son just has grown out of. Although she’ll enjoy the spooky associations of spending Hallowe’en as a bat, I’m really pleased that the night walk will have given her an insight into what really goes on in the natural world when darkness falls.
If you’d like to join a family night walk, search on your local Wildlife Trust website