A Day of Nature Study

We started the day off guiding visitors on a walk of the museum grounds, educating them about the Healing Power of Plants. It was a great morning and in our group were visitors from as far away as New Zealand and Great Britain! I love ‘peak visitor season’.

After our walk, we joined our group for the Desert Dwellers show. The desert wildlife displayed their natural behaviors – including birds of prey swooping over our heads – as we learned about the animals’ roles in Native American legends. It was a great show!

I most enjoyed watching the Porcupine. He was so content to sit on the log and eat the Bitterbrush twig, that he wasn’t eager to exit the stage. Normally, he is observed in his habitat curled up and sleeping. I don’t often get to see his face. He was so cute! Buddy liked the Porcupine as well. He said, “I want to touch it! Pet it, Mama. I want to.”

Sweetie says, “My favorite part was that I had to duck my head when the birds flew over me because it was too close.” She also enjoyed the Badger and his persistent personality. “I liked all of the show, Mama.”

After the show, we purchased lunch in the cafe and then the kids picked out a stuffed snake at the trading post. They used the gift certificates they were given as appreciation for their volunteer hours.

We then drove down to Benham Falls to meet our Roots & Shoots group for a Letterboxing quest. We arrived early so the kids and I enjoyed a leisurely walk to the falls (the clues to the letterbox would lead us upriver – the falls were downriver). It was a great opportunity to check-in with each of them to see what plants they could identify. Buddy recognizes only two, Manzanita and Ponderosa Pine. He can share one fact for each as well. Sweetie can identify nearly as many plants of the high desert region as I, including: Ponderosa Pine, Juniper, Manzanita, Oregon Grape, Bitter Brush, Rabbit Brush, Snow Brush, Wild Rose, and Aspen. She knows many facts for each. It is such a delight to share my love of nature with the kiddos.

On our walk, we made a few discoveries. A tent of caterpillars upon a Bitter Brush shrub caught my attention and we spent several minutes watching them wiggle about frantically. I wasn’t able to get a better picture, though. Buddy was fearless and in an attempt to pick one up, caused them all to drop off in an effort to escape. This was such a cool discovery. As we observed them, I was able to share a few anecdotes from the Rainforest Caterpillars Earthwatch Expedition in which I participated in 2001.

As we continued along, we also came across some peculiar looking plant shoots emerging above the decomposing needles that fell long ago. Based upon my prior readings, I believe this to be Pine Drop. A native plant that lacks chlorophyll and has one to several erect stems. It is believed to be dependent on a fungus that develops a mycorrhizal relationship with a coniferous tree to obtain the nutrients it needs. Because there is no evidence that it is directly parasitic on the forest tree, it is considered by some to be a saprophyte, or alternatively a parasite on the fungus.

We thereafter returned to the parking area to meet up with our friends. Unfortunately, no one in our group joined us. This frustrates me and I’ll likely write a post about these frustrations in the near future. As it was, another young family had just arrived and the little girl immediately introduced herself to Sweetie. Sweetie wanted to go on the letterbox quest with a friend so she asked Rose to join us. Her parents obliged and we were successful in finding 2 hidden boxes.

Along the walk, Rose’s mom observed a small snake slither across the trail and called our attention to it. My nature lovers weren’t shy in the least and were so eager to pick up the little fellow that I had to remind them to be gentle and not squeeze him! Rose, on the other hand, was more content to observe from a far. It was a great afternoon and though we didn’t get to meet up with our R&S group, we did introduce another family to the joys of Letterboxing.

Let’s Pull Together 2008 ~ Part One

Our Roots & Shoots group will be participating in the state-wide Let’s Pull Together campaign this month. Invasive species have always been a favorite topic of mine. When I was teaching, I wrote several grants to develop an “Alien Invaders” curriculum and get my students involved in the eradication/prevention of invasives.

In anticipation of our upcoming endeavor, I thought I’d share a list of 13 Invasive Species that are changing the Oregon landscape. The graphic below describes how unwanted plants and animals are dispersed. Click on it to enlarge.

I encourage you to become familiar with the invasive animals and plants in your area and to do your part to prevent further distribution.

In the Woods

Two families joined us for our monthly Roots & Shoots activity (three others called with apologies they wouldn’t be able to make it – we’re going to do a make-up session on Thursday). We started out with a read aloud, a great children’s book called, In the Woods, Who’s Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George. There are 4 books in this series and all are great. Each page gives little clues or details about an animal and asks, “Who’s been here?” The kids make guesses and when we turn the page, we discover the answer. At the back of the book there is a brief description of each of the animals that was introduced. I love these books and use them frequently. Yesterday morning, the kids and I lead our weekly nature walk at the museum and picked up In the Garden, Who’s Been Here? – the one book in the series I hadn’t yet acquired.

After the book, we did a fun activity from Project Learning Tree called Tree Factory. There is a similar activity in Ranger Rick’s Trees Are Terrific called Build a Tree. The kids basically act out the parts of a tree and in doing so, learn how a tree works like a factory. We all get to act a little silly. It is a lot of fun.
We also did an activity I call, “Secrets of the Forest”. I distribute to each child a small paper bag with assorted things that can be found in the forest (cones, a small rock, a stick, a feather, a beaver chip, an acorn, a tiny tree cookie, lichen, moss, a deer tooth, etc.). The kids put their hand in and try to guess the contents without looking into the bag. It can be varied slightly depending on age – today for example, we did one item at a time and after we went around the circle, each child revealed one item.
We went around twice and then we dumped out the bags to see everything. As the kids investigated the items in their bags, I asked them to pick up the Pine Cone. There were actually three cones in each bag (Pine, Spruce or Fir, and Alder). Most of the kids picked up all three… some picked up just one. I then revealed the secret that not all cones are Pine Cones. Cones on a Spruce should be called Spruce Cones, those on a Fir are Fir Cones, etc.
We had also planned on going for a walk but it was too cold and windy – odd, since we had 90 degree temps over the weekend! The other kids are not accustomed to cold nature walks so instead, we enjoyed a light snack and then allowed the kids to play while we visited.

For the next few weeks, I have asked the kids to draw a picture of a plant or animal that lives here in the community. We are then going to use their illustrations and any research they may do to create a field guide for our community (focus is on native species; excluding ornamentals that have been planted in yards as landscaping). I’ll also incorporate photographs and factual information about each species. We hope to sell the field guides to raise money to buy bird houses for the meadow and the park.

Taking the Pledge to Pack – Decorating Canvas Bags

Yesterday afternoon, our Roots & Shoots club gathered to enjoy one another’s company while decorating canvas bags. It was part of a global effort to reduce our use of plastic.  Most of the girls enjoyed the activity and were focused for nearly 45 minutes on their bags… the boys on the other hand, were more interested in burning off excess energy. Amazing how boys and girls differ so much in this regard.

I had stencils & fabric paints readily available and as the children worked on their bags (everyone brought their own), I talked about the purpose of the activity (to reduce our use of disposable paper and plastic bags). Through a little research, we have learned that the production of both paper and plastic bags uses a tremendous amount of natural resources. There are pros and cons to both materials and thereby the “greenish” choice is to use re-usable bags or baskets (canvas, hemp or other natural fibers).

When the children had completed their bags and while we waited for the paint to dry, I had activity stations set up in the kitchen to allow the children an opportunity to explore how a bird’s beak/bill is specially adapted to eating specific foods. I found the activity in Ranger Rick’s Nature Scope Birds, Birds, Birds! activity book. I also found an adaptation available here a a PDF download, Fill the Bill.

It was a great hands-on activity extension to our nature study focus area on birds. Earlier that morning, I also did a read-aloud from our Wildlife Fact File on “How Birds Build Nests”. I’m loving our new home school schedule! 🙂