10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore

The sandy shore dominates much of the open coastline of the Pacific Northwest, stretching uninterrupted for miles in many regions. These dynamic habitats represent the most physically controlled of all the nearshore marine habitats and are considered one of the hardest places to live. As such, understanding the nature of the habitat and the animals that live there is important.image of a teen walking on a sandy beach with text overlay "Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore: 10 Activities for Teens" @EvaVarga.net

Sandy beaches are in a constant state of change and motion. Animals on exposed sandy beaches must protect themselves from shifting, abrasive sand and heavy surf.

Hands-on Activities to Explore the Sandy Shore

My family and I have spent much time exploring the ecology of the sandy shore and immersing ourselves in nature discoveries. There are many opportunities to learn more about this environment. Here are few ideas to help you get started:

Collect samples of beach sand from different beaches and classify each into coarse, medium, and fine sand. Can you see evidence of animal life in the samples?

Send the kids on an scavenger hunt of the intertidal invertebrates – note that many of these are not residents of the shifting sands of the sandy shore but are found clinging to the rocks and along the margins shoreline.

Be ready for the unexpected; you never know what you might discover while walking along the sandy beach like these Rare, Bizarre Creatures from the Deep. Finding an animal or plant that is unfamiliar to you is a great opportunity to seek out the answer. Can you find it in a guidebook? Do others know? Consider reaching out to local experts (remember to bring a photo) for help. Resource specialists at Fish & Wildlife offices are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with the public.

getting started in 5 exercisesBegin a nature journal and showcase your discoveries. Here’s a peak at one of my son’s earliest entries, The Elusive Brittle Star: An Hawai’ian Nature Study. Need help to get started? Check out my tutorial, Keeping a Nature Journal: Getting Started in 5 Exercises.

You may also be interested in a college level course, Nature Journaling in the Classroom. The course is offered through the Heritage Institute and optional, university credit is available.

Do a little research to learn more about the animals that live in the surf-swept coastline. How are they adapted to life in this physically demanding habitat? Compare and contrast the means of mobility of two animals commonly seen on California’s Central Coast: Ventura Beach: the Pacific Mole Crab and By-the-Wind Sailor. Make a list of the adaptations you have observed.

image of two marine invertebrates: By the Wind Sailor (jellyfish) and Pacific Mole CrabChallenge your kids to design their own plant or animal specially equipped to survive on the sandy shore. Draw a picture of the organism or build a 3D model. Tell how it is adapted to life here.

Take Action to Protect the Sandy Shore

As a life long resident of the Oregon coast, the condition of our local beaches and ecosystems is very important to me. The idea of citizen science or “public participation in scientific research,” has also always been a passion of mine. Here are a few ideas in hopes of inspiring your family to get involved:

Take part in aBioBlitz –  an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time. We took part in 2014 but they happen annually.

image collage of a young girl upcycling plastics to create artOrganize a family beach clean-up and do your part to spread the word about the dangers of single-use plastics like Washed Ashore

Feeling inspired? Collect plastic bottle caps to create a colorful mural and donate it to a local non-profit.

Just for fun, create a Labyrinth on the Beach and invite others to join you. Encourage participants to make a pledge to do their part to make a difference.

Guidebooks to the Sandy Shore & Other Habitats

The Beachcomber’s Guide to Marine Life in the Pacific Northwest by Thomas M. Niesen is one of my favorite marine ecology guides.  Each page is features incredible hand illustrations (by artist David Wood) that really capture the organism with a detailed simplicity.  Additionally, black and white images (though some are a little dark) and 16 pages of color photographs in the center of the book provide  excellent coverage.

Though this is not a pocket guide, Dr. Niesen writes in very clear language to help you identify what you are looking at, learn about its life habits, as well as its habitat. Organized with an emphasis on habitats and arrangement by type of organism within each habitat (sandy beach, estuaries, rocky intertidal, open ocean, etc.) is extremely helpful. Niesen also goes into great detail about the different tidal zones and the particular creatures you will find in each zone.

simple graphic image of green grass on white background with text Nature Book ClubWelcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.

See all the great posts from The Nature Book Club’s co-hosts in July

The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.

Seashore Observations Printable Activity from Barbara at Handbook of Nature Study

Seashells by the Seashore | Notebooking Pages from Jenny at Faith & Good Works

Beach Scavenger Hunt from Emily at Table Life Blog

10 Nature Discoveries on the Sandy Shore from Eva at Eva Varga

Turtle in the Sea Online Book Club from Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate

Party Rules

Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
You can link up to 3 posts. Please do not link up advertising posts, advertise other link up parties, your store, or non-related blog posts. They will be removed.
By linking up with us, you agree for us to share your images and give you credit of course if we feature your posts.That’s it.

Let’s party!


A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature’s Engineers {Middle School Unit Study}

North American Beaver (Castor Canadensis) play a critical role in the ecology of our streams. Their dams create pooling of water upstream, which creates wildlife habitat for many dozens of wetland and slow-moving water species that wouldn’t otherwise be in such riparian habitats.

These industrious mammals provide a fascinating topic for middle school science investigations. Here you will find a variety of resources and materials to engage middle schoolers in real science related to nature’s engineers, Castor canadensis.

A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature's Engineers (A Middle School Unit Study) @EvaVarga.net

Beaver Anatomy & Physiology

Beavers are the largest rodents in North America, and they spend most of their time in the water. To protect themselves from the cold and wetness they have waterproof reddish brown or blackish brown hair. They have small, round, brown ears, and powerful back legs for swimming. A beaver’s front legs are not as large or as strong as its back legs.

Beaver skulls and teeth are very big. The two front teeth are orange colored, and they can be up to 5 mm wide and between 20 and 25 mm long. These teeth grow throughout the animal’s life, and they are used for cutting wood. Without these teeth beavers could not cut down or eat trees and wood. Beavers also have see-through eye lids, and closable nostrils and ears for swimming underwater.

Beavers also have anal and castor glands, which they use to mark their territory. These glands are located beneath the tail. The beaver utilizes the oily secretion (castoreum) from these scent glands to also waterproof its thick fur.

The beaver has a thick layer of fat under its skin that helps keep it warm underwater. Beavers have long sharp upper and lower incisor teeth that they use to cut into trees and woody vegetation. These teeth grow throughout the beaver’s life. A beaver’s tail is broad, flat, and covered with large black scales.

A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature's Engineers (A Middle School Unit Study) @EvaVarga.net

Beaver Ecology & Natural History

Important natural processes, such as energy flows and chemical cycles, result from the interaction of species within a community. Food webs of trophic (trophic – pertaining to nutrition) interactions among species are one example of how multiple soil-plant, plant-plant, plant-animal, and animal-plant relationships link together within a functioning community. Some species can be highly influential in their communities, even if they occur at relatively low population densities. When the presence and actions of this species tend to form the foundation of how other species relate to each other in the community, we often call the influential plant or animal a keystone species.

“Keystone” is a metaphor equated to the stone in the middle of an arch in a building. Removal of the keystone leads to destabilization if not outright collapse of the other elements that “lean on” or depend upon that keystone.

A Look at the Industrious Beaver: Nature's Engineers (A Middle School Unit Study) @EvaVarga.netThe beaver is often cited as an example of a keystone species because through its dam-building behaviors it has major influences on both the vegetation of an area and the water table. In turn, these factors have strong influences on the abundance and quality of habitat for many other plant and animal species within the community. They engineer, or create, habitat that supports greater biodiversity that would otherwise not exist.

No other animal with the exception of man can significantly alter its habitat to suit its own needs and desires. Native Americans revered the beaver and referred to them as “Little People” for this reason.

In one of the first images of its kind, night-vision cameras recently captured photos of native beavers and invasive nutria working together to build a dam across a channel at Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area in Portland, Oregon.

Beaver Unit Study Resources

Act out a short skit to teach others about the natural history of the beaver – its adaptations for its environment as well as the impact humans have had on it throughout history.

Dress up a volunteer as you learn about the structural and behavioral adaptations of beavers.

Explore the website Beavers: Wetlands & Wildlife to learn more about beavers and their impact on the ecology.

Learn about the history of the Fur Trade and Beaver Ecology including numerous Historical Source Documents.

Learn about Beavers and Climate Change Adaptation Strategies – A Report from Wild Earth Guardians.

Download the Beaver Monitoring App and help scientists study how beavers could be used as a tool for stream restoration and mitigating impacts of climate change.

Reach out to your local watershed associations to learn about watershed monitoring and restoration projects that impact beavers. How can you get involved?

Visit and observe an ecosystem created by beavers in your local area (contact Fish & Wildlife for assistance in locating a dam if you are unfamiliar). Keep a journal of your observations.

zoology

You might also be interested in my 10-week inquiry based science unit introducing middle level students to the study of animals: Zoology: Amazing Animals. Lessons include scientific classification, identifying animal tracks, ecology, and animal behavior.