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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

What you can do to help birds

Hey guys! This week we learned about bird nests and bird migration. Today, we wrap up the week by looking at ways to increase bird biodiversity, right in your neighborhood!

Have you heard of biodiversity before?

Let’s break it down:

  • The first part of the word, Bio, means life.
  • The second part, Diversity, means a variety of things.
  • So put together, it means a variety of living things.

Scientists consider more biodiverse ecosystems to be healthier.

We can attract a diversity of birds by creating diverse places for them to live, and creating diverse food sources for them. Let’s look at some examples of how to do that.

So how can we improve bird biodiversity?

We’ll go over:

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Bird Migration

Right now, in our very own backyards, an amazing annual event is taking place. Birds are currently traveling from their winter residences all the way to their summer homes! This is called migration.

Your challenge today is to find as many different species of birds as possible and to figure out how they got here!

As it is currently the height of migration season, we have an incredibly diverse population here with us. Some birds might be full-time residents, but others are just passing through. Take a look outside and see what you can find!

Once you’ve found a bird, go to Cornell’s All About Birds site to be guided through identifying it.

It may take patience to see birds outside your home. If you can’t get a good look at a bird at home, try these livestreamed bird feeders:

  • This live footage of a bird feeder in Ithaca, NY has similar birds as Ohio.
  • This one in Fort Davis, TX is farther away. Do you see any birds that are the same as here? Any birds that don’t live here?

What to look for:

When trying to identify birds, there are a few characteristics that can be incredibly helpful:

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Distance Learning

Survival Skills Virtual Field Trip: This Friday!

This Friday, we’re taking another Zoom-based field trip. Join us for a crash course in survival skills!

Environmental educator Joe Brehm and Madison Donohue will teach us about some of the most basic survival skills like fire building, rope making, and even brewing wild tea. This event is for youth, adults, and families.

Friday, April 24th at 1:30pm
Please register at this link to attend: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwsdemppj0iGNRQB-Rxrq6gdBoIm4sIjj26

You can also see the Facebook event.

Using a tinder bundle to coax a coal to life. This is part of starting fire with friction (i.e., rubbing sticks together).

We’ll explore these skills:
Starting and tending to a fire
Foraging for food
Using natural materials to create tools.

Stay tuned for some activities you can practice to prepare!

Have survival questions or something else you’d like to see in a field trip? Leave a comment!

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

We are sharing every new activity in the Southeast Ohio Young Naturalists Club facebook group. Join our group for conversation with other nature-exploring families, and to always know what environmental education activities are happening.

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Best of Bird Nests

When admiring a freshly made bird nest, my grandfather would whistle and say, “they put us to shame.” He was impressed with the nests’ efficiency, beauty, and that they make them without hands. Another amazing thing about bird nests? Almost every species makes a unique type of nest.

Today, we challenge you to find at least one bird nest and try to identify the bird species who made it. Key clues to solve this mystery are:

  • material the nest is made out of (leaves, moss, sticks, spit, dirt?)
  • habitat type in which you found it (the woods? Near water? A field?)
  • its size 
  • height off the ground (on the ground? In bushes? High in a tree?) 

Compare your clues to the descriptions of nests at allaboutbirds.org (which has lots of other great bird information too!). 

If you are quiet and patient, you might also see:

  • What the eggs or chicks look like
  • Parent birds coming and going

That will definitely help you figure out what kind of birds made the nest!

Some of the easiest nests to identify in Southeast Ohio are made by Baltimore orioles. They weave bag-like nests out of milkweed and other plant fibers. See the nest below on the left, and the male oriole on the right:

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Vernal Pool Trips

We’ve heard about a few of your vernal pool trips this week!

Some of you joined us virtually for a Zoom field trip today. We livestreamed from the vernal pool on the Cucumbertree trail in Athens. We saw:

We share some of what we learned below. Like: how some frogs breathe through their skins, but some insects breathe through their butts.

Other people took their own trips. Take a short video trip with our friends, Juni and Maggi!

Juni and Maggi showed us how they find living organisms in their pond, and how they used iNaturalist to identify them.

What species did they find? How does it fit into the food web of the pond? If you like, do a little research and tell us what you figure out.

You can also explore more Ohio wetlands through these 360 photos here.

Questions to ponder from the field…

People asked a lot of great questions on our virtual field trip today. Here are few things we talked about!

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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.

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Vernal Pools, Part II

Did you get enough of vernal pools last week? No? Me neither! Vernal pools are amazing and teeming with life. Check out Joe’s lesson if you haven’t already. Today we’ll dive a little deeper into the sounds of vernal pools, namely, frog calls!

Some of you took your own trips to vernal pools. Check out what you found:

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Ecosystem in a Bottle

Hello everyone! Did you go searching through a vernal pool or foraging for wild ramps this week? Wherever you did your exploring, I hope you were able to share all your cool nature finds with friends and family. Keep adding your observations to the comments!

Today, we’ll be doing an Ecosystem in a Bottle activity to illustrate where you went exploring this week.

My ecosystem in a bottle made from plants in my yard!

But first, I want to check-in! Are there any Young Naturalist Club activities that you really liked? Is there a cool nature experience you’ve had since reading the blog? Any requests?

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Foraging for ramps

Today we are going to step into the shoes of our ancient ancestors and get a glimpse of what life would have been like 11,000 years ago. There are no farms, no stores, and you are getting hungry. Where do you go to get your food?

The answer, you have to find your food in the wild! This is known as foraging, the process of searching for, identifying and collecting food in the wild. You may already have done a little foraging yourself. Picking mushrooms, blackberries, or onion grass are all examples of foraging. 

What are some other things people might forage for? Take a minute to think about this before you jump into the next section.

Foraging in four simple steps

Step one: Choosing

The first step in our foraging adventure is to choose what edible plant you want to hunt for. There are all kinds of plants that can be eaten, but do a little research to see what grows near you. Make sure that your plant is edible before seeking it out.

As we go through these steps together, we are going to focus on one of my favorite seasonal foods, ramps. Ramps are a species of wild onion that are native throughout eastern North America. They are one of the first plants to pop up in the spring and now is the ideal time to find them!

Step two: Searching

The second step in our foraging adventure is searching for the plant. With a little bit of research I found that ramps like to grow in shady wet areas. They also like low-lying places where water might gather. We can use these clues to think about places near us that are the perfect place for ramps to grow. Can you think of some places around you that are shady and wet?

We thought the best place to look would be the bottom of hills where the soil was wet and mushy. Look at what we found!

Brett talks about finding the best places for wild ramps to grow. By doing just a little bit of research, you can narrow down your search for wild edible plants.

But wait!!! How can we be sure these are ramps? What if they are some other plant that we shouldn’t be eating? This brings us to step three.

Step three: Identifying

The third step in our adventure is identifying the plant. We need to be sure that this is really a ramp and not something that looks similar. There are some other plants that might make us sick if we eat them and we need to be careful to avoid them.

We already looked at some photos of ramps earlier, but we need to look for a few more clues to be sure they are ramps. Check out the video below to learn more!

Eugene teaches us how to identify ramps using methods like the smell test. It is important to make sure this is a ramp and not another plant that could be dangerous if eaten. Be sure to check with an adult or a field guide before harvesting a wild plant.

Step four: Collecting

The fourth step in our adventure is to collect the plant or the parts of the plant we want to eat. With ramps every part of the plant is edible except for the seeds. The bulb has the most flavor, followed by stem and then the leaves. In fact, there are special ways of harvesting each part of this plant!

Here are the three methods that our forestry experts use. Some of these methods ensure the plant grows back next year so we can eat it all over again! Check out the video below to hear from one of our forestry experts.

Here we learned how to collect wild ramps using the whole-bulb removal method. We also talk a little about being safe while foraging. Make sure you do not collect plants from public parks or private property without permission.

This video used the whole plant removal method to collect the entire plant. When using this method it is important to only harvest a little bit of the patch, about 5% at most. We would also need to revisit this site later to plant the seeds of the remaining ramps. Why do you think this is important?

Here we learned how to harvest ramps using the cut-stalk method. While we used a pocket knife in this video a pair of simple scissors would work just as well.

This video used the cut-stalk method of harvesting to collect the stem and leaves of the plant. When using this method it is important to continue to harvest only 5% of the patch at most. Why do you think we can still only harvest 5% of the patch using this method?

Here we learned how to harvest only the leaves of the ramp using the leaf-only method. Ramps grow in tight clumps so make sure you are not harvesting too many leaves from a single plant.

In this video we learned about the leaf-only harvest method. When using this method you should always leave at least one leaf on the ramp so it can continue to grow and even produce seeds later in the season! 

Your Turn

We learned about foraging for ramps, but there are a lot of wild edibles out there. These include onion grass, dandelions, chickweed  and so much more. These plants are much more common than ramps. You may even have them around your home.

Here is an example of Darcy foraging for violets, following our guidelines.

Want to forage in your own yard? Darcy shows you how to identify and gather violets.

If you want to forage for plants, follow the four steps we learned about. Check out the summary below to review.

  1. Choosing

Try foraging for ramps or violets, like we show you here, or do good research. What are some plants you’ve seen recently that might be edible?

When choosing a plant to gather, first make sure it is something you can eat. Some plants even have to be cooked a certain way before they can eat them.

  1. Searching 

Research where your plant grows best. You can use that information to think about where you could find that plant, and make finding it much easier.

Gather plants from places where there are no pets or chemical pesticides.

  1. Identifying

There are all kinds of plants out there and many of them can look alike. In some cases plants that can make you sick or irritate your skin will look a lot like an edible one. Make sure you check with an adult before you handle the plant.

If you aren’t sure of your identification, stop at this step, and share what you’ve learn with us!

  1. Collecting

Be sure to only collect the edible parts of the plant you are finding. In some cases there may even be a way to collect those parts in a way where the plant will still continue to grow. Just like with our ramps example!

Did you hunt for an edible plant? Tell us about below!

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Vernal Pools, Part I

This week, we invite you to take a field trip (virtual or real) to a vernal pool. Read on to find out what they are!

I love vernal pools because they provide habitat for some of our most mysterious creatures in Ohio. Some people refer to them as “Appalachian tide pools” because they are ephemeral (don’t last very long) and harbor strange creatures like mole salamanders, fairy shrimp, diving beetles, and many others.

This time of year (late winter and early spring) is perhaps the best time to visit vernal pools. They are literally swimming with wildlife.

Try to spot the frogs on the edge before they jump into the pool. Can you see the big frog on the log?