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Entries in wildlife (60)


Nature Thursdays—wildflowers at County Farm Park

There is something to be said for schedule. If nothing else I like knowing that my Thursday journaling topic is covered, and that makes the brainstorming part of blogging much easier. Today's nature program for kids was all about wildflowers. I knew when I looked at the schedule for the summer that most of the activities and information would not be new to Calvin, and since we have a garden full of carefully cultivated "wild" flowers at our house today's program was anything but. I don't mind, and it's clear that Calvin doesn't either, because the point is to enjoy the time outside with other nature interested people. But a new situation presented itself today that I've never delt with before: the kid who knows everything. When the guide asks questions Calvin knows the answers almost every single time. He knows this stuff, we've enjoyed it together at home for years, if that can be said of a five-year-old, but we're going to have to discuss the importance of letting other kids answer first, or at least think about the answers. Calvin knows these things because he was exposed to them, and now it's time for the other kids to gain their own exposure. With a relatively shy and introverted little boy that was a new one on me.

As usual today's program was enjoyable. We learned about native Michigan wildflowers and the wildlife that love them. The bug-fearing mom was back with us, but apparently butterflies and bees are less scary, and everyone was interested in the plants. And I know we usually hike afterwards, but schedules are meant to be broken, and since we are in the final stages of readying for a summer trip—packing, meeting with the dog/house sitter, and doing some last minute cleaning up, laundry, and squaring away at the library—our usual post-program hike went right out the window. Not before we retraced our steps to the car, however, a short hike which afforded us more prairie-like views and many bird sightings (though none as cool as a woodcock).

A little early

Bumble on Bergamot (bee balm)


A little bit of weekend nature

Great Spangled Fritillary in our garden

Baby robins under the deck Saturday...

...and then on the deck Sunday

Someone ate the tops off all the bean plants (and left us the beans)

But the tomatoes are coming in

And all the lillies are in full bloom


Nature Thursdays—Wildlife detectives at Rolling Hills

Back on the trails again. Today's Thursday program with our county parks and recreation was a bigger hike than usual, and maybe it was the half hour drive that scared away the rest of the regulars, but Calvin and I were actually the only ones there. Funny, because turtles are cool, and logs are cool, but I really thought the "detective" part of today's program title would bring kids out of the woodwork.

A private class was okay with us, though, because when you're out scanning the ground for tracks and other signs of animals, and when you have to talk about things like scat and owl pellets, the smaller the crowd the better (and the larger the crowd, the more "ewwwwws" there are to be had). Calvin is comfortable with both scat and owl pellets, but we found only the former, and mostly from deer. Really the class was a bit like preaching to the choir. Calvin and I have been hiking our fields looking for exactly these same clues for years now. In fact, of the three of us, he was the one who found and identified the raccoon tracks and the deer scat. I also found mole trails, a couple of snake holes, and lots of duck tracks. We found nests, both bird and squirrel, and some gnawed crab apples and acorns. It was a thoroughly enjoyable private event.

Identifying a mole's trail and hole

Checking out pond scum

After our favorite guide left we ate lunch and took our now customary hike. Jon and I had hiked many of the trails at Rolling Hills about four years ago with Calvin in the Kelty pack, but I haven't been there since and I had forgotten how nice the foot trails are—lots of deep woods and wildflowers and some views of the little pond. We found lots of dragonflies and butterflies, identified a few trees and their lichens, counted fungus groups, and scared more than a few squirrels and birds.

Hitting the trails after lunch

Dragonfly and damselfly

Catbird mewing (they really do mew)

My favorite part of the day was right at the end: as we turned a corner there was a lot of rustling in the ground leaves near us and suddenly the strangest looking, most clumsy flying bird took off and flew right across the path in front of us. I was too dumbfounded to handle the camera properly before he was gone, but it was most assuredly a woodcock, something I have seen only in bird books. Calvin swears he looked just like an overgrown bumble bee, which I think was in reference to its strange, butt-heavy flying—and he laughed about it for the rest of the way back to the car. I was just ecstatic over seeing a new bird. Even a clumsy one.



They are so majestic in the water, and even walking through the neighborhood they are beautiful, though there is something comical and incongruous about their walking down the street, the sidewalk, and through our neighbor's lawns, and cute is, of course, a better adjective for their fuzzy babies. We've seen this same family a number of times over the past couple of weeks, and are relieved and delighted to count still six babies between their parents. Last year the pair lost all but two of the babies, likely to predators, but it's a thought I cannot entertain as I watch them trundle off down the street, the babies plopping down to rest every now and then, anytime the impulse takes them, sitting so briefly that it seems almost like a mistake: "oh, you mean we aren't stopping here?"


Nature Thursdays—turtles at Independence Lake

We are fortunate to have a really wonderful naturalist with our County Parks and Recreation. We've done several hikes and other presentations with her in the past, and this summer she is offering Kids' Nature Thursdays in which she will cover a different topic at a different park each week. I knew that it would be a lovely program because I know she's great with kids in the way that I like people to be great with kids—by talking to them as equals and giving them respect and space in which to learn. Today was the first of the summer Thursdays, an hour all about turtles. We touched shells we learned some facts, we played with a couple captives, we went looking for the real things in the lake, and we scouted out some nests, finding two in tact (and putting protection over them) and many that had fallen victim to raccoons (which allowed us to come home with shells, and I had forgotten how rubbery they are, not at all like chicken eggs, something Calvin noticed right away).

I learned today that the snapping turtle, unlike most others, has very little shell on his underside, which means he has to be more aggressive and ornery. I learned that my son already knew that, and what a reptile was, and what it meant to be cold blooded. He'd been reading up, unbeknownst to me, in preparation for today's session. I think that was my favorite new bit of knowledge for the day.

Then, being already at the park I figured that Thursdays would be a great time to get Calvin out hiking on his own two feet. He's been out many times before, of course, but really only in the backpack. Today he and I did a mile trail through the wetlands after turtle appreciation hour. We took lunch and ate it sitting atop the lookout, where we promptly got lightly rained on, but to no ill effect. So the weather was iffy at best, we had a great time anyhow.

We identified milkweed, poison ivy, yarrow, and a number of trees. We also saw many butterfly species, including the cabbage white, lady skippers, spring azure, and peck's skipper. Calvin is pretty good with the cabbage white (and a number of other butterflies that visit our own yard regularly), and he knows most of the plants already, but we took some laminated identifying pamphlets with us for fun.

Rain and all, it was a great afternoon, and Calvin is really excited about what I have dubbed "nature day" next Thrusday. He's also asked to go on another hike this weekend, and with the cooler weather it seems like a great time to explore another local path. We'll continue breaking him in on increasingly long trails as the summer progresses. I have images of us hiking into rustic camping already!

My only disappoint from the trip was that, after getting a-hold of nature journals and remembering to pack both them and colored pencils, it was too wet to get them out. When we got home, though, Calvin was quick to jump at the opportunity. So these are not nature illustrations the way that I had them in mind, with the two of us sitting and sketching what we see (and oh, how often will it occur that I imagine an event one way but have to be content with another outcome), but they are his impressions of our hike today. The first is his sketch of us eating lunch on top of a wooden lookout. The second is his sketch of the trail as seen from above. And then, of course, the jounral entry. I was surprised that he didn't add a picture to this as well, but if he does so in the future I will come back and add it.

I linked this post to share at Saturday's Artist.

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