As the children become more familiar with the places we visit, they ask if we can return to particular sites. This week we had requests to go the rocky bank and to the pathways under the casuarinas along the water’s edge. The children were particularly keen to see if the birds nest (from last week) was still there. The nest was located; though it was in a somewhat disheveled state and showing little sign of habitation.
While we were pondering on the presence of the nest, a water bird feeding in the reeds captured the children’s attention. Noticing that this bird was more easily frightened than the swans, the children approached cautiously; tip-toeing and whispering ‘shh’ to each other in their attempts to get a closer look. From a distance of several metres the children followed the bird as it darted through the reeds and grasses and eventually back to the water.
One child commented that he loved the way the bird ‘ran so fast in the water’. Later, after the walk, the children looked through a field guide to find the name of the bird – it was a purple swamp hen.
We found that following the movement of the birds through air, water and land required us to adjust our own modes of moving if we wanted the birds to stay a while. Observing in this way required us to pay close attention to both the bird’s and our own presence.
In thinking about other animals that live here, we soon came across a different type of challenge: how could we possibly come to understand the habits of the wildlife that live beneath the surface? We have witnessed an ant dragging food to its nest, but it soon disappears to territory that is invisible to us. There is so much more to this place than what we can see, and attending to what lies beneath is not an easy task.
This week, the children had a chance to wonder at these hidden underground worlds. On our approach to the rocky bank (a steep incline covered in large rocks, small trees and shrubs), several scuttling rabbits caught the children’s eye.
Some rabbits were startled and ran away across the grass, while others retreated to their burrows. Through all this activity, the children’s attention was drawn to the multitude of rabbit holes in the rocky bank. Peering into holes, and discovering new ones concealed by over-hanging rocks, kept the children busy for sometime.
They became aware that underneath them was a network of tunnels where the rabbits lived: ‘I’m on the top of the rabbit hole’ exclaimed one child as he stood on a rock, while others called out ‘I can see another rabbit hole’ and ‘there’s so many’.
There were also clues as to how the homes were made, such as piles of dirt out the front of the holes and fresh scratching. The children enjoyed the feel of the newly turned dirt. It was easier to pick up and move around than the hardened earth elsewhere.
Towards the end of the walk, some children lay down in the cool, damp grass in the shade. Watching the children enjoy the soft and prickly texture of the grass was a reminder that there are many ways we can get to know this place. It is not only about what we can see, but also about what is hidden and what all our senses might reveal.