Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Waking up for Spring: Flora

Never mind March
We know you’re not really mad
Or angry or bad
You’re only blowing the winter away
To get the world ready for April and May

-“March,” author unkown

March is an exciting time of year for us naturalists! This is because the natural world is waking up from its winter hibernation and getting ready for spring. Some say if you sit quietly enough in the forest

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, you can hear it waking up. What do you hear?

On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll all become scientists and artists: studying how plants are waking up around us.


Attend the virtual field trip

, Friday, March 19 at 10:30am. We’ll be hiking in our favorite wildflower spots.

Learn what “phenology” is and why it is important.

Contribute to citizen science by making your own spring observations

See when and where to look for wildflowers popping up in our area

Virtual Field Trip: Friday, March 19, 2021

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:15 AM, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods for anyone who wants to join. This week, we’ll look at how the plants are changing with the spring weather. I can’t wait to hike with my camera through the woods!

If you haven’t registered for our field trips before, register here to get the link in your email:

What Phenology is and Why its Important

As most of us naturalists know, there are many kinds of organisms (living things) that live together in nature. Each organism has its own unique life cycle. Each responds differently to the other organisms, seasons, and places around it. Observing when and where organisms wake up or enter new parts of the life cycle is called phenology

I like to think of phenology as nature’s calendar. Unlike our manmade calendar with specific dates for special occasions. Nature’s calendar can change from year to year.  For example, Christmas is always December 25th. But the first day you see a wildflower popping up may change from year to year. 

The first day I noticed wildflowers where I live was February 28th. I saw a large patch of Snowdrops (Genus Galanthus) in my front yard!

This video shows the different stages plants go through in spring. Which different phases do you see in the video? These are the kinds of things I watch for.

Recording when and where these changes happen is important to scientists and land managers. It helps us make important decisions.

For example, gardeners pay attention to when the last frost happened in past years, so they know when its safe to move plants outside.

Ecologists watch to see if any plants or animals might need help. For example, if a certain flower starts blooming earlier or later, the bee or insect that pollinates it might not be around then. That bee or insect could go hungry, and the flower won’t make any seeds!

People have come up with many sayings, based on what they notice. These sayings are passed down from generation to generation. One example is:

“Look for morels when oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear.”

Morels are a delicious mushroom that can only be harvested for a short time each year. Over time, people have observed that the best time to find these mushrooms is when the oak leaves are tiny, barely out of their buds. 

When lily-of-the-valley is bloom, it’s time to plant tomatoes.

Only the bottom blossoms of this fireweed have opened so far. So there is still lots of summer to enjoy!

You can’t tell someone to always plant tomatoes on a date, like May 5th, because the weather is different every year. The other plants provide better clues!

When the top of the fireweed blooms

, summer is about to end.

My friends on the west coast love a purple flower called fireweed. Its flowers start blooming at the bottom, then slowly work upward. But when the top flowers are blooming, my friends start to prepare for winter.

Try This!

Talk with your older relatives

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, like a grandparent or a great aunt, about what natural events they remember from their youth. This can be a fun way to learn about what was going on in the natural world in the past.

The picture above is  four generations of my family: my grandma
, my mom, my sister, and my niece. I think they were talking about when my grandma remembered milkweed flowers blooming when she was a little girl. 

Try asking about what natural events they remember from when they were kids. Are they different from what you see today?

Contribute to Citizen Science

Scientists are interested in when plants and animals enter different life stages in different places. But they can’t be everywhere at once. So your observations can help them! If you pay attention to things like the first day you see a bird return from winter migration, or the first day you see a kind of flower bloom, you can share these observations with scientists.

I do this with the website iNaturalist. I take pictures of things I see in nature, then share it with the time and place I saw it. Sometimes, other people help you identify what you saw! To learn more about how to use iNaturalist, check out our post on Observing with iNaturalist

When you enter nature pictures in iNaturalist, you help scientists like  Michael Moore, a biology graduate student at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He used the information that people contributed to iNaturalist to discover that dragonfly wings were colored differently in hotter and colder places. Dragonflies with less colorful wings were not as successful at flying.

Get inspired to Make Your Own Beautiful Nature Calendar 

Making your own nature calendar can be a fun way to track what natural events are happening where you live. It encourages us to have an inquisitive eye when observing nature.

The picture above is my friend making observations in her sit spot. She plans to make observations in the same spot once a week for four weeks and see what changes over that time.

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, nature calendars are in the shape of wheels. A student watched a willow tree all month in this one:

This student watched a willow bud grow for 30 days. Photo: Aspen Center for Environmental Studies

What is your favorite thing to watch come back to life in spring? 

Use your answer to this question as inspiration to fill in your own nature calendar.

For step by step instruction to make a nature calendar wheel

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, check out this website

When and Where to Look for Wildflowers in our Region 

I created this list of when and where to look for a few kinds of wildflowers by looking at the Wayne National Forest Bioblitz on iNaturalist. But don’t take my word for it. Check out these locations for yourself to see if you can find any of these flowers! Do you think they will bloom earlier or later than last year?

These are some common flowers to find very early in spring in the woods. Keep an eye out for them, or show us some others you find!

Name: Rue Anemone
Location: York Township Lat: 39.432503 Lon: -82.24631
Date observed: March 28, 2020
iNaturalist Observer: david2470

Name: Spring Beauty 
Location: Wayne National Forest, Millfield, OH, US
Date: April 3rd, 2020
iNaturalist Observer: camparker

Name: Dutchman’s Breeches 
Location: Burr Oak State Park

, Malta, OH, US
Date: April 8th 2020
iNaturalist Observer: mlski

Name: Large White Trillium
Location: Nelsonville

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, Lat: 39.429502 Lon: -82.205244
Date: April 28th 2020
iNaturalist Observer: timniehart

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Turkey Vultures: Virtual Field Trip

“Nature’s Clean-up Crew”

What do you think of when you hear the word “vulture”? Some people may think they are scary or gross. But vultures are unique and important creatures that play a critical role in the ecosystem: cleaning it up. Join us on this week’s virtual field trip to meet these magnificent animals!


Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, February 5 at 10:30. Featuring live vultures!

Listen to a Navajo story that includes a brave deed by vulture.

Learn to identify vultures. We have suggestions for where to find them, and all you ever wanted to know about their life and behavior!

Clean up litter. What better way to learn from nature’s clean-up crew than to help clean up?

Virtual Field Trip: Friday, February 5 at 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods for anyone who wants to join. This week, we’ll have a special guest: a real, live turkey vulture and her caretaker!

If you haven’t registered for our field trips before, register here to get the link in your email:

When you register, your registration is good for every Friday.

Teachers: Your class can join these public field trips, or contact to set up a zoom field trip just for your classroom.

Can’t make it, or can’t wait? Read on to learn about vulture’s special way of recycling and incredible flying abilities. Hopefully you’ll gain a new appreciation for the amazing turkey vultures!

Hello, my name is…

Like most plants and animals, Turkey Vulture go by many names:

  • Scientists call them Cathartes aura, which is Latin for “cleansing breeze.”
  • In North America, some say “buzzards” or “turkey buzzards.”
  •  In the Caribbean, people say “John crow” or “carrion crow.”

Today I will simply call them turkey vultures.

Turkey Vulture Adult (Tropical) (with Southern Caracara)
Thompson Ian took this photo and submitted it to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The common name Turkey Vulture was formed because some think the birds look like wild turkeys. Take a look back at our “Turkey Talk post”, and let us know if you agree.

Vultures in Stories

Navajo actress and author Geri Keams narrates from her book “Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun”.

Listen to the Navajo story “Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun” in the video above. This is an old story of how darkness was turned to light and the animals that helped.

What is the buzzard character like in this story? Is the buzzard in this story different from how you’ve seen vultures in other stories or movies?

Picture by George Blankenhorn

My favorite part of the story is when Buzzard tries to catch a piece of the sun in his large crown of feathers, but ends up burning off all his feathers leaving him bald with a bright red head!

How to identify a turkey vulture

“Turkey Vultures are large, dark birds with long, broad wings. Bigger than other raptors except eagles and condors, they have long ‘fingers’ at their wingtips and long tails that extend past their toe tips in flight. When soaring, Turkey Vultures hold their wings slightly raised, making a ‘V’ when seen head-on.”

All About Birds
A turkey vulture has white feathers along the edges and tips of its wings. A similar bird, the black vulture, only has the white tips. Photo: George Blankenhorn

When you see turkey vulture from underneath, like in the picture above, the feathers on the tips and edges of its wings are white. This is a key clue that it is a turkey vulture, not another large bird.

Another key clue is the iconic red, bald head. Like the story Grandmother Spider Brings the Sun explains, turkey vultures have no feathers on their heads. This helps them to stay clean since they feed by thrusting their heads into the body cavities of rotting animals!

You might see another kind of vulture in our area: the black vulture. Like its name says, its bald head is black instead of red. Black cultures also have black feathers along the edge of their wings instead of white, with just a few white feathers at the tip.


A large part of identifying animals is learning where they spend most of their time, so you know where to look for them.

Part of what animals look for in habitat is a place to have babies. Turkey vultures don’t make nests for their eggs like other birds. Instead, they find a dark crevice to lay their eggs. Sometimes, they use other birds’ abandoned nests to lay their eggs in. Turkey vulture eggs and hatchlings have been found in rock piles, caves, and hallowed out tree stumps.

The video above was taken at a former abandoned root cellar at Wisteria in Meigs County. In this video you can see a white and fluffy baby turkey vulture!

Adult and juvenile turkey vultures can be found on roadsides, suburbs, farm fields, countryside. They also gather near food sources like landfills, trash heaps, and construction sites. One of my favorite places in Athens is The Ridges, because I can always count on seeing turkey vultures or black vultures there.

Take A Vulture Hike

To see these marvelous birds soaring through the sky, try visiting these places people report seeing them often:

  • Dairy Barn Lane near the Ridges in Athens
  • Highland Park, and the nearby hillside above Grosvenor St, in Athens
  • The hillside with the big white cross in Nelsonville (the cross is accessible by car or walking!)
  • The “Athens” sign by the Richland Ave round-about.

Try checking out these locations, or tell us about a spot where you regularly see them!

One reason people see vultures in these spots might be that there is a nearby vulture roost, or group resting place. Groups of cultures often rest on big, dead trees. That’s because these trees have the height and space vultures need to take off in flight! With their 6-foot wing span, turkey vultures need a wide, clear peak to allow them to open up and catch a thermal current.

We’ll talk more below about thermal currents and how turkey vultures use them to soar through the sky.

One man’s trash is another man’s… dinner?

In the picture below, you can see an adult (red head) and a juvenile (dark gray head) turkey vulture scoping out a dumpster.

Remember how I said in some parts of the Caribbean
, people call them carrion crows? Well, that’s because carrion is what they eat! Carrion is a word used to describe the rotting flesh of dead animals.

Turkey vultures often eat roadkill and other carrion. Photo: George Blankenhorn

Turkey vultures are scavengers. They cannot kill their own prey. Instead, they depend on their keen sense of smell to find animal carcasses. They actually have the largest olfactory (smelling) system of all birds. Its been reported that turkey cultures can smell carrion from over a mile away!

This excellent sense of smell not only helps them find their food. It also lets them know how long the animal has been dead

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, and if it’s good to eat.  

Structures and their functions

The structure of an animal’s body parts can tell us a lot about the function, or what they use that body part for. Think about your body’s structure: its parts and how they work. What does it allow you to do that other animals can’t, or what are you limited by?


One way to tell that turkey vultures can’t kill their own prey is by taking a look at their feet. Let’s compare their feet to birds that do kill their own prey.

Try finding the differences and similarities in the feet of a red-tailed hawk (left) and a turkey vulture (right). What do you notice?

Keep in mind that ted-tailed hawks, like most raptors, kill their prey using the strength of their talons. Turkey vultures use their feet to help them rip flesh off carcasses.


The beak of a bird can tell you a lot about what it eats!

Take a look at the pictures below of the hummingbird’s beak( left) and the turkey vulture’s beak(right). How are they the same or different?

Hummingbirds use their long, needle-like beaks to probe into a flower. This lets them to lap up nectar with their special tongues. Turkey vultures use their thick strong beaks to rip flesh off of dead animals.

Taking flight

Watch turkey vultures soaring in the air: they almost never flap their wings. This is because turkey vultures find thermal currents, or rising columns of warm air. They use their large wings to float on the warm air, lifting them high into the sky.

Though their wings are 6 feet across, the vultures only weigh 2-3 pounds. Floating this way, they can use very little energy while soaring through the sky. Aircraft pilots have reported seeing vultures as high as 20,000 feet and soaring for hours without ever flapping their wings!

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The picture above is of my friend and a dead Turkey Vulture found in Athens County. My friend was impressed by the bird’s large wings!

Turkey vultures are not the only birds that catch these thermal currents. Other birds look for turkey vultures to help them find the rising columns of air. I often look for them above highways, where the warmth of cars creates thermals.

Humans have also looked to vultures to learn how to fly! Check out paraglider Bianca Heinrich and others competing in the world paragliding championships in the video below. Parasails catch thermal currents, letting people fly the same way as turkey vultures!


Many turkey vultures use southeast Ohio as their summer breeding territory. Then they fly south for the winter months. During their migration, they can fly over 200 miles a day!

In early spring and late fall, you can find large groups of turkey vultures preparing to leave or return. These large groups of turkey vultures are called kettles, because they look like water boiling in a kettle as lots of them make wobbly circles in the sky.

File:Turkey Vultures Hovering.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Turkey vultures kettling.

Recently, fewer and fewer turkey cultures bother to leave in the fall. Turkey vultures are slowly becoming year-round residents in Appalachia Ohio. Changing climate may explain why these birds no longer need to leave for the winter. With warmer winters, the long migration to South America is less necessary.

Celebrating turkey vultures

This video celebrates the time of year when turkey vultures would typically gather together before their long migration. The beginning talks about celebrating turkey vultures because they are unique and important creatures that are critical to the ecosystem.

One way we can help our ecosystem and honor turkey cultures is by helping them clean up waste! Turkey vultures help clean up the roadsides in their own special way by eating roadkill and other dead animals. You can help in a special human way by picking up litter outside. Take a bag with you on your next walk and help clean up!

How will you celebrate turkey vultures this week?

Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Turkey Talk: Virtual Field Trip

wild turkey

With Thanksgiving coming, there is lots of talk about turkeys. So on this Friday’s virtual field trip, we’ll look at the turkeys who live in southeast Ohio’s woods. Read on!

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, Nov. 20 at 10:30am. We look at turkey adaptations and habitats.

Learn some turkey terms. Could you recognize toms

, hens, jakes or poults?

Dig and gobble like a turkey. Here are our tips on how to find food like a turkey, and how to call a turkey.

Turkey Virtual Field Trip, Friday, Nov. 20 at 10:30am

Friday, November 20, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll learn about how wild turkeys are adapted to live in southeast Ohio.

You’ll receive the link for the Zoom call in your email. The same link works each Friday.

~~We’ll post the recording of the field trip here the following Monday~~

Turkey Terms:

Birds,turkey,hens,animal,wild - free image from
Flock- A group of turkeys
Nature,wildlife,animals,birds,game bird - free image from
Jake- A young male turkey
File:Wild turkey and juveniles.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Poult- A baby turkey

Funny Faces

A tom turkey looks different then a hen. A tom’s head has more lumpy parts. When a tom gets excited

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, these parts fill with blood. They turn red.

The snood is the flap of skin over the turkey’s beak. The wattle is the flap of skin under the beak, attached to the neck.

Baby Turkeys

File:Baby turkey in FL.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
A poult.

Baby turkeys are called poults. They are bigger than baby chicks. Their necks are longer too. Poults eat bugs and grass.

Fun turkey facts

  1. Turkeys can fly for short burst, about 100 yards.
  2. Wild turkeys sleep, or roost, in the tops of trees overnight.
  3. Turkeys do not migrate in winter. Instead, they have layers of down feathers against their skin to keep them warm.

Your turn: Acting Like Turkeys

Do you like to see wildlife? Try thinking and acting like a turkey next time you’re outside!

It sounds silly, but putting yourself in an animal’s place might help you understand them better. Here are two ideas.

Look for turkey food

Turkeys use their feet to to dig up acorns, nuts, and seeds. Turkeys love to find all sorts of bugs and worms to eat!

In this video, two turkeys scratch the ground to find food. See how they find hidden bugs and nuts under the leaves?
File:Turkey Feet.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Turkey’s feet have sharp nails for digging!

Our feet look much different than turkeys’, and we have hands instead of wings! We cut the nails on our fingers and toes, so they aren’t as sharp as turkeys. But maybe we can search for bugs and nuts on the forest floor like turkeys do.

Using your hands to scatter the leaves and lightly dig, can you find any turkey food in the woods near you? What tasty turkey treats do you find? Was it hard to find food like you were a turkey?

Keep an eye out for scratched up leaves on the ground–it may be a sign turkeys were there recently.

Try to get a turkey’s attention

A tom’s feathers are more colorful than a hen’s. He can spread his tail feathers open to look like a fan. The fan makes the tom look bigger and more impressive. Toms shake their feathers to make hens notice them.

This video is of a tom and hen calling to each other.

In the video above, you can watch a tom displaying his feathers and calling out to a hen. Can you count how many different calls you hear?

Free picture: pair, wild, turkey, birds, male, female, breeding, plumage,  meleagris gallopavo
A tom displaying for a hen.

I’ve never heard anything like a turkey call. It is such a unique sound. Turns out that humans can use their voices to make sounds just like turkey calls, though. Why might humans want to imitate the sounds of turkeys?

It might take some practice, but you could perfect the screech and gobble of a turkey. Watch the video below of the world champion turkey caller to learn how to pretend to be a turkey. If you become a calling expert like Preston, we’d love to hear your best turkey call on the virtual field trip on Friday!

Listen to a human (the world champion) call turkeys!

If you are in the right place at dawn or dusk, you might hear a turkey gobble back to you! However, don’t gobble at them too many times, because it may bother them.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

What is Pollination?

This is a question that I have been exploring as I watch all sorts of insects and animals visit the sunflowers I planted outside my window. I see bees sitting in the middle of the flowers seeming to cover themselves is the bright yellow dust of the flower, I see crickets sitting on the unopened blossoms and I’ve even seen birds pecking away at the flowers. Are all these animals pollinators? Do sunflowers(or any flower) need to be pollinated to make seeds? What even is a pollination?! All these questions and more can be answered if you keep scrolling.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Honeysuckle Baskets

A man using traditional basket weaving technique to make beautiful baskets

Tool making is something humans have been practicing for over two million years! Tools have not only helped to make our lives easier, but have also helped to create culture. Learning how to make primitive tools can be a fun and useful outdoor skill, like the compass Brock showed us how to make on Wednesday. 

Making tools for yourself wouldn’t be a top priority in a survival emergency. But if you had to live in the wild for a longer period of time, or just want to meet more of your needs with your own hands, it’s useful!

Basket weaving is found in most cultures around the world. Baskets are essential! You can use them for gathering food, as backpacks, as baby carriers, as cupboards, as plates and cups, as cradles, as birdcages, as measuring cups, and to catch fish (just to name a few!). Some baskets can even hold water!

Think about the things in your house. If you couldn’t buy anything at the store, how many of them could be replaced with a basket?

Today we will learn how to weave baskets out of Japanese honeysuckle vine. One reason we chose Japanese honeysuckle is that it’s an invasive plant (remember what an invasive is?). Just like garlic mustard, using this invasive plant is one way to get rid of it! It’s also easy to find, anywhere you live.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

A Call to Protect our Forest—by eating it

Last week, Brett taught us how to forage for tasty wild plants. He told us to only harvest a few plants from any patch. Today, we’re going to discover an exception to that rule. You can pull up every single one of this kind of plant.

It goes by many names: Garlic Mustard, hedge garlic, sauce-alone, jack-by-the-hedge, poor man’s mustard, jack-in-the-bush, garlic root, garlic wort, mustard root.

A picture of young Garlic Mustard

We will call this plant Garlic Mustard during today’s activity, but you can call it any of those names. Scientists have come up with a fancy Latin name to make sure other scientists know exactly what they are talking about. Alliaria petiolata is how scientists say Garlic Mustard. 

This picture of Garlic Mustard was taken by Leigh Casal on iNaturalist

Invasive- Have you heard of an alien invasion before? Invasive plants are kind of like an alien invasion, except they don’t come from outer space. Invasive plants come from distant ecosystems. They are able to grow extremely fast and take over the new ecosystem they are growing in, causing damage to their new ecosystem. They can take up all the food, space, or water, making survival more difficult for the original plants.

Garlic Mustard is an invasive plant from Europe. It’s been slowly taking over our forest for over 150 years! It can even release a chemical in the soil that stops other plants from growing. We need you to help save our forest. All you have to do is pull this plant up wherever you find it!

Luckily removing this invader is simple, easy and rewarding. But first we need to know how to find it.