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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Nature & Self-Care During a Pandemic

Do you ever notice a feeling of well-being after you do certain things? If so, these activities might be part of your “self-care.” Self-care might look like:

  • running and playing so your body feels healthy,
  • sleeping enough so you feel rested instead of grumpy,
  • or calling a friend when you feel lonely.

Self-care helps us manage stress. It’s especially important times like now, when we are out of our normal routines of going to school or work, seeing friends and family, and socializing.

So can nature time be a way to take care of ourselves? We think so!

According to Herb Broda, PhD and well-known professor and author at Ashland University,

“Going outside is vital to our health.”

A mounting body of research agrees that spending time outside is essential for everyone’s mental, physical, and social health—children and adults alike.

The Children and Nature Network shares research on how nature benefits children’s health. Here are a few of their findings.

For more research on how nature makes you smarter, stronger, happier and more productive, visit this National Park Service page.

How is nature a form of self-care for you?

Five of our environmental educators share how nature plays a role in their self-care routines. Then, they suggest some of their favorite parks and trails to visit. Read on!

JOE

Becoming more tree-like

No photo description available.

One of the most valuable characteristics of the natural world for me is that it is both consistent and surprising. For example, when I was in high school I would wander through a nearby forest to get away from everything else. I would sit with my back to a white oak tree high up on a bluff overlooking the river and think quietly. The trees and the river were always there for me, but they were also never the same.

Every visit to that place was a little different, but the feeling of being there was much the same. Some pleasant side effects for these walks included exercise, breathing fresh air, beginning a lifelong study of the natural world, and becoming a little bit more tree-like and river-like.


MIA

Using all five senses

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water

For me, taking a walk outside in nature, whether it is on the bike path or hiking in the great outdoors, is like hitting the reset button. I immediately feel an increased awareness and connectedness to the natural world and more present in my own body.

When I am walking, I try to pay attention to my five senses: sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch.

Sight: What can I see around me? What colors do I see? Are there plants, trees, or animals I can identify by sight? If you slow down long enough, you might even start to notice the smallest of creatures, like bugs!

Smell: Can I smell anything? On a recent hike in Sells Park I found a mushroom that smelled just like black licorice!

Taste: Are there any identifiable plants that I can safely taste? A couple of my favorites are sour grass, which I think tastes a lot like a sour candy, and spice bush.

Touch: Finally, what can I touch? I love any opportunity I get to feel something with my hands or feet. When it is safe and the opportunity presents itself, one of my favorite things to do is take my shoes off! Have you ever walked on a blanket of moss with your bare feet? It is incredibly soft!


EMILY

Nature journaling

Short days and grey skies can get me down pretty easily. Staying inside on days that feel yucky out often makes me feel even worse! On these winter days when I am restless at home, I like to venture into nature with a notebook and pen in hand. I don’t always go far; sometimes I just walk to the end of my street to an open field by the Hocking River. Other days I trek into the woods. 

When I get to a spot with a good place to sit (against the trunk of a tree, on a rock or a stump, in the grass), I’ll open up my notebook, grab my pen, and settle in. 

I like to be a good observer of all the happenings of the natural world around me. If you focus closely, you’ll notice animals, insects, details and sounds you’ve never encountered before! I try to focus on nature by using four of my senses, one at a time. (Just like Mia described, though we’ll leave out taste for now to be safe. )

I start with closing my eyes while I sit still, paying extra attention to all that I can hear. I sit and listen for a minute. Then, I write in my notebook all that I heard in that minute:

Here is what I heard the other day at Sells Park.

I close my eyes again and move on to touch. What can I feel with my hands around me in one minute? Do I feel acorns? Sticks? Something soft that I can’t identify? Bugs moving? I open my eyes, and write down all I felt. 

Everything my hands felt when my eyes were closed.

I do the same with smell and sight. I save sight for last, because ordinarily, I use my eyes so much that I can forget my other senses. I want to make sure I don’t miss out on cool parts of our world that I normally don’t catch with my eyes. 

My nose caught these scents at Sells.
I saw a lot of things in one minute!

Observing nature closely feels like a game to me–how many new things can I discover each time I do this activity? I get giddy when I touch a new bug or hear a new bird call while sitting with my notebook. My notebook helps to keep track of all the amazing new things I have sensed!

But, I like to do one more thing before I put my notebook away: draw!

One day, I saw the caterpillar of a question mark butterfly, so I drew the butterfly!

I pick one thing surrounding me and try to draw it. My notebook is full of drawings of tree bark, what I think the birds I heard look like, boulders, particular plants, and bugs! I don’t worry about how “good” I think the drawing is. Drawing anything is a better visual than a blank page, so pick something and doodle away! 

I love to flip through my nature notebook and remember all the neat things I experienced despite the dark, cold winter days. I hope collecting your observations outside in a nature notebook will help you keep the winter blues at bay!


MADISON

Running and playing with mud

Running through the woods is one way I like to play outside!

When I run through the forest I have to be very aware of where I’m stepping and what’s ahead of me. Running forces me to only think about what I’m doing at that moment, not worrying about the past or future.

Another reason I like to run through the woods, or trail run as some people call it, is because it doesn’t require much. The only thing I need is a comfortable pair of shoes. I can go as fast and as far as I want and I can stop to take a break whenever I want! Trail running is a great way for me to clear my head and be present. As a bonus, I get to get covered in mud!

This is Madison in early spring after she tilled a plot for a garden. Muddy and happy!

Speaking of mud, whenever I have a chance to touch the earth, I feel happier and rejuvenated. And I’m not the only one. So many other people felt the same way that scientists decided to study why playing in the dirt makes us feel happy.

What they found was a living thing in dirt called Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil microbe. When we dig into the soil, we kick up these microbes and breath them in. They seep into our skin. Once we are exposed to the microbes, they work in our brains to make us happy and relaxed. When I garden is usually when I am happiest!

Mud Kitchen

Mud Kitchen is one of mine and my friends’ favorite activities. We were found some old pots, pans, buckets, and utensils to use outside. We make all sorts of recipes out of dirt, water, leaves, and whatever else we can find. I think one reason why Mud Kitchen is so fun is because there is no single way to play. We can use our imaginations to come up with endless ways to play. 


Darcy

No weather is bad weather!

Sometimes, people think we have to stay inside when the weather is cold or wet. I used to think so too–after all, it’s hard to have fun when you’re uncomfortable.

But then…I got rain pants. With not only a rain coat, but also rain pants and rubber boots, I could run through a downpour and be perfectly dry!

Suddenly, going out in the rain was even more fun than going out in the sun. I could walk through anything! I was undefeatable!

Now I agree with a friend who told me, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

Tips for staying warm outside in winter:

  1. Wear several warm layers. Air gets trapped between layers to keep you warmer. So two layered shirts might be warmer than just one heavier shirt. My clothes have at least three layers:
    • Inside layer: Long underwear or ordinary shirts close to my body.
    • Middle warm layer: Something warm and puffy, like a sweater or fleece.
    • Outside protective layer: a heavy coat, rain jacket, or shell to keep out wind and rain, and add warmth.
  2. Don’t wear cotton next to your skin–wear wool or synthetic fabric instead. Cotton gets damp from your sweat, then actually makes you colder! But wool and synthetics stay warm even if you sweat. Wool socks can make boots more comfy.
  3. Wear mittens instead of gloves. Keeping your fingers together helps them warm each other up. If you are able to, replace those little knit cotton gloves with heavier mittens–as soon as cotton get wet, they stop working so well.
  4. Bring a thermos of a warm drink. Heat yourself up from the inside, and you can stay outside longer!
  5. Run and play! The best way to warm up is to MOVE! If you start to get cold, it’s time to start a game or hike somewhere new.
  6. If you’re still cold–where can you add more layers? Did you forget a scarf, or not wear any long underwear under your jeans? Do you have a coat but no snow pants over your legs?

Places to Explore…

Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills is one of the more famous parks nearby. But have you heard of some of the ones below?

Here are some of the Environmental Education team’s favorite places in Athens County to get into nature! If you have the chance, try visiting a new place.

Where is your favorite nature spot? Share your photos with us by leaving a comment!

Want more ideas for natural areas to visit? The Athens Conservancy has a great guide to outdoor areas. They also manage 11 nature preserves that are worth a visit.

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Lichens: Virtual Field Trip, Jan. 8

Our friend Emily found these “British Soldier” lichen on Christmas Eve. Photo: Emily Walter.

What is so tough that it can survive on bark, rocks, dirt, and even outer space? A little organism called lichen.

You might have seen it before: lichen is that flat, green or blue, flakey stuff on tree bark or rocks. Sometimes people think it’s moss, but it’s not. Actually, I wondered on my last walk, what exactly is this weird thing?

On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll find out just what lichen is and what it does!

CHOOSE YOUR LICHEN ADVENTURE:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, January 8 at 10:30. We’ll find out what lichen is and how it can survive harsh places!

Learn what lichen is: Read and look at pictures of lichen.

Look for lichen outside: What kind can you find? Does it tell you anything about the ecosystem?

Virtual Field Trip, Jan. 8 at 10:30am

Some lichen is so small that it looks like little dots on rocks. Photo: National Park Service/Jesmira Bonoan.

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 look at what lichen is, how it survives crazy conditions, and how you can recognize it!

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

The same link works each Friday.

What is lichen?

If you’ve ever noticed something that…
… is grey, blue-ish, green or lime green;
… growing off a tree, a rock, cement or just on the ground;
…looks like flakes, dots, or dust;

…then you might have seen a lichen! Here are pictures of common lichens here in southeast Ohio:

A lot of people think lichen is moss. But moss is a completely different organism. Here’s a picture of moss. Can you tell the difference?

Moss is a plant, with roots, leaves and stems. But a lichen is not a plant at all!

Lichen is actually part algae and part fungus*. These two organisms join together and live like one! It’s a little like Frankenstein’s monster, except helpful instead of scary. When two organisms work together like this, it’s called symbiosis.

Lichen is made up of algae and fungus, living together like one organism.

What is the algae’s job in the lichen? The algae makes its own food from the sun (also known as photosynthesis). The algae shares this food with its partner fungus.

The fungus’ job is making the lichen’s structure. Like a house, it gives the algae a safe place to live.

Do you think lichens are producers, decomposers, or consumers in the food web? Why?

Lichens do not have stems, roots, or leaves to move water, air and food around. Instead, lichens use all the cells in their body to breathe, eat and drink. They breathe in EVERYTHING that surrounds them. This makes them very sensitive to the air around them, like Goldilocks. Certain lichens can only grow in very clean, very filtered air, while others can handle harsher conditions. 

Because they are so sensitive, scientists use lichens as bio-indicators–a living thing that shows how healthy their environment is. The number, health and kinds of lichen we find give us clues about how healthy the whole ecosystem is.

In North America, 3,600 species of lichen have been discovered so far! More are being discovered every day.

Using what you know about lichens so far, why do you think they are so important to an ecosystem? 

*It’s also part yeast, and maybe a few other things. We are still learning what is in lichen!

Masters of Survival

Lichens need a lot of water. They are typically found near water, or north in areas that get a lot of fog. When lichens are wet, they photosynthesize and grow. When dry, they stop doing everything: no making food, no growing. This helps them save as much water as possible. 

This dry lichen can spring back to life if it gets a bit of water. Photo: sirwiseowl

So when you spot a lichen outside, ask yourself: is it dry and brittle, or wet and spongy? The answer will tell you about how wet that place is. It might reflect recent weather. And it will tell you whether the lichen is active, or dormant! 

Because they can turn themselves on and off, lichens are known as one of the toughest, hardiest organisms found in nature. They can live in extreme conditions: everywhere from the freezing arctic tundra to the blazing hot desert. In the arctic, lichens are the main producer feeding animals, because it’s so difficult for plants to survive there. This is because they can dry out when there isn’t water, and wait for water to return. Astronauts even put a dry lichen in outer space for two weeks, and it returned just fine!

Lichen grows places that plants can’t. Once lichen is established, plants might grow on the spot it prepared. Photo: National Park Service

Because lichens don’t need roots to get nutrients, they can live on many more surfaces: you see them on rocks, concrete, dirt, and tree bark. In places that are very hard to grow–like rocks or places where volcanoes exploded–lichens might be the first organism to grow there. They prepare the ground before plants can grow. They have two parts that keep them attached to their surface. The first, rhizines, look like little twisty roots. The second, holdfasts, are often compared to an umbilical cord. They are just one thick structure that holds the entire lichen to its spot. 

Lichens have a weak spot: they need very clean air to be healthy. Since they breathe in EVERYTHING in the air around them, you might not find them in polluted areas, like cities or near factories or power plants. 

How do lichens help the ecosystem?

Many animals eat lichen. They can also use lichen as camouflage. Small birds, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, use them to build tiny nests that are hidden from predators. Gray tree frogs blend right in with them as well. The tree frogs will sit right on the lichen on the tree! 

Humans use some lichens for dyes, medicine, and as a preservative. We are even able to eat certain types! Do you have a pool at your house? The small strips you use to test the pH of your water, litmus strips, are lined with the color-changing chemicals found in lichens.

Some animals that use lichens in our neck of the woods: 

  • Lacewing insect larvae (to live in)
  • Northern Parula, ruby-throated hummingbird, and blue-gray gnatcatcher (for nests)
  • Nuthatches and brown creepers (for food) 
  • Gray tree frogs (for camouflage)
  • Flying squirrels (for food and nests)

Identifying lichen

There are three groups of lichen: Foliose, Fruticose, and Crustose. I can’t always identify what exact kind of lichen I’m looking at, but I can usually identify its group!

Foliose

A foliose lichen.

Foliose lichen have 2 sides, like leaves on a tree. There is a top and bottom. They can be flat, leafy, or full of ridges and bumps. 

Fruticose

Fruticose lichen have more fruit-like shapes, rather than being flat like a leaf. They can go straight up and down, look almost hair-like and shrubby, or look like “cups.” 

Crustose

A crustose lichen. Photo: National Park Service

Crustose are like their name: they look crusty, and are often on rocks. They are flat and often have bright colors. 

With this information, what do you think is the most common kind of lichen in Ohio?

Your turn: Look for lichens

Now that you are an expert in the functioning of a lichen, go outside to try and find some!

  1. Look on trees, rocks, and other flat surfaces.
  2. Once you’ve spotted your lichen, try to figure out which of the three categories it belongs in: fruticose, crustose, or foliose. s it bright and colorful and flat? Or does it have bumps and ridges? What was it growing on?
  3.  If you can’t find any–why do you think that is? If you find a bunch, what does that say about that environment?

After you’ve thought about these questions, share what you found in the comments! We’ll help you identify them!

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Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

A Look at Landfills

Looking down on the Athens Hocking Reclamation Center.

In October, Sophie (another educator with Rural Action) and I went on a “World of Waste Tour” across southeast Ohio. We saw where our waste goes after leaving our bins: a landfill, recycling center, and compost facility. The landfill made a big impression!

Where our waste goes is often a mystery to the average person. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” really applies to what we throw away! Learning about how our waste is handled and how much waste we create helps us reduce our environmental impact.

In this blog post, we share what we learned about landfills: what they are, how they work, and what a landfill looks like here in southeast Ohio. 

What is a landfill?

A landfill is a place where we put solid waste. If we can’t turn it something new through recycling or composting, it goes to the landfill. When we throw something in the trash can, it goes to the landfill. It will never be seen or used again. (So think about if something has more uses before you put it in the trash can!)

Today, landfills keep trash separate from the environment around it. However, landfills didn’t always have environmental safeguards in place. Landfills used to just be big holes in the ground full of trash, called open dumps. No one watched out for how that trash might affect water or air.

Certain types of waste are more harmful to the earth and its people than others. Waste that is considered dangerous to human and environmental health is known as hazardous waste. Plenty of hazardous waste ended up in old school landfills.

An open dump. Photo credit: Julian Belli

An old landfill near Nelsonville on 691 used to take hazardous waste. It was not well managed for our protection. The 691 Landfill was open from 1969 to 1984. It covered 30 acres and mainly took trash from households, but a lot of hazardous waste found its way in. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labeled the area a Superfund Site because of all the dangerous waste in it. This fancy name just means the area needed cleaned up as soon as possible.

The EPA and its partners cleaned up the 691 Landfill from 1995-1998. Now, the hazardous waste inside shouldn’t harm us or the natural world. The 691 Landfill looks like this now, with dirt and grass on top of the trash.

The 691 Landfill outside of Nelsonville today.

Modern landfills

The 691 landfill, like most landfills of the mid-20th century, didn’t have infrastructure in place to lessen the environmental impact of trash rotting in the ground. Today, our waste goes to sanitary landfills. 

Sanitary landfills are sites where waste is isolated, or kept separate, from the environment. Professionals in fields like geology, engineering, and environmental science run sanitary landfills. The site supervisor at the Athens Hocking Reclamation Center, the place our trash goes in southeast Ohio, has a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s degree in geological engineering. You have to really know your stuff to have a job like this! Supervisors are in charge of making sure their landfills are following federal regulations. The EPA sets these intensive regulations to protect the environment around landfills.

Landfill regulation

According to the EPA, landfills have to be located away from fault lines (cracks in the earth), wetlands, and floodplains.

Paying attention to fault lines when choosing a spot for a landfill will keep us from stirring up trouble with the rock layers that make up the earth when digging out the landfill.

We choose locations away from wet areas to ensure leachate stays far away from our drinking water. Leachate is the liquid trash goop that leaks out of a landfill. Does your trash bag drip when you take it to the curb? Leachate is that same liquid, but on a larger, more toxic scale.

The location of some landfills has sparked controversy, however. Robert Bullard, known as the father of environmental justice, did a study on the location of landfills in Texas. He noted that every landfill in the state is located in mostly black and brown, lower-middle income neighborhoods. Black and brown folks make up only 25% of the population of Texas, but 100% of landfill’s neighbors. Geology and hydrology are major players in the siting of landfills, but there might be political reasons a landfill is where it is. 

Regulations now say a landfill needs a geo-membrane to hold that leachate. This is often a two foot (or more) layer of clay on the edges of the landfill. Geo-membranes typically have a plastic liner outside the clay. Geo-membranes and plastic liners keep liquid and chemicals from leaking into the soil and groundwater. Complex leachate collection systems catch and direct leachate away from groundwater. One acre of a leachate collection system costs $250,000!

Watch this video about the layers of a landfill and how it protects the area around it.

How a modern landfill keeps the environment safe. Video Credit: Waterpedia

Another system in place to ensure the environmental safety of landfills is groundwater monitoring. Underneath the soil, there are holey rocks that hold water in the ground. This is called groundwater. The groundwater around landfills is tested often to see if the water is safe for humans and wildlife.

There are several daily practices used to control the yucky smell, keep trash from flying away, and keep insects and rats out. Every time a truck dumps trash in the landfill, this trash is rolled over multiple times with a compactor. A compactor weighs about 50 tons (that’s 100,000 pounds!) and has giant spiky wheels to grind up the waste. Dirt is placed on top of the trash after it is ground up and compacted to keep water out. 

A 50 ton machine grinds up our trash.

Saying goodbye to a landfill

When a landfill is as full of trash as it can legally be, it needs to be safely closed. A two foot layer of clay and a six inch layer of topsoil to grow native grasses are placed on top of all the trash to close the landfill.

A cross section of a safely closed landfill. Photo credit: EPA

Landfills need to make enough money to pay someone to monitor the landfill for at least 30 years after it stops taking trash! This person will look closely at the effectiveness of the liners and leachate collection systems over time. Is the landfill holding all the leachate? Is the environment around the landfill is contaminated? Continuous monitoring lets us know what methods we use work well and which ones need adjusting. Through ongoing observation of landfills, we can create sites that are more environmentally friendly in the future. 

Our local landfill

My view at the Athens Hocking Reclamation Center.

The Athens Hocking Reclamation Center in Nelsonville is the final destination for trash we put to the curb or in a dumpster. This landfill opened in 1983. Now that the EPA regulates landfills, the Athens Hocking Reclamation Center has to get a permit for the disposal of solid waste, their impact on water and air quality, and for the disposal of leachate that seeps from the landfill. If they aren’t doing enough to protect the air and water, these permits can be taken back and the landfill will be illegal to operate.

This landfill has 3 feet of clay beneath it, as well as a 60 millimeter polyethylene liner (the plastic liner made just for landfills). The clay and plastic together should stop trash from leaking into the soil below and contaminating it. This landfill does not have a collection system for the methane gas that is created by decomposing trash. The landfill releases methane into the air, but methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Landfills can have local impacts on air and water quality, but they also add to global climate change if the methane is not collected.

Our local landfill is 550 acres large. It’s estimated that this landfill has 50 years of trash disposal left in it. Then it will be full. According to the environmental director of the landfill, there are 11,000,000 yards of capacity left. Each day, the landfill sees about 50 to 75 trucks of household waste. Add all of those trucks up, and the landfill receives 70,000 tons of household waste a year. That’s on top of the waste they take from industry!

The trash that comes in on trucks each day is unloaded onto the daily face. This is the section of the landfill that they chose to put trash on that day. A worker runs over the daily face with a compactor at least 6 times to push the trash down as much as possible. At the end of the day, workers cover the new trash with six inches of dirt to prevent water from leaking into the trash and to keep the flies and rats down. You saw the compactor running over trash at our landfill earlier!

The daily face the day I was at the landfill.

It was sad to see so many usable items be smashed by a giant compactor. We saw plastic chairs, a dollhouse, a basketball, and many other items that looked like they were in good shape be run over and buried. Eugene and I even found a frisbee to play with! 

While landfills are designed to be the safest method for disposing of things that truly are trash, I don’t think most of the things I saw in the landfill deserved to be there. These items could have lived many more lives. Instead, they are now buried in a mound of dirt in an area that was once a stunningly pretty valley.

What can we do?

If you read this blog post and thought “Gee, landfills don’t sound all that great,” and would like to learn more about keeping your waste out of landfills, check out our previous blog posts about waste.

Seeing a landfill and feeling all the trash shake under my feet when a machine drove by was an upsetting experience, but it has opened my eyes to just how much unnecessary trash we make in this world.

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Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Sarah’s Book Corner: Tracks!

Some of you met our friend Sarah–and her dog, Mabel–on last week’s tracking virtual field trip. Sarah is not only an excellent dog walker, tracker, and nature artist. She is also the youth librarian at the Glouster library, here in Athens County.

Sarah showed us Mabel the dog’s foot on our tracking field trip.

“Darcy, I know how you and the young naturalists love nature,” Sarah said to me. “There are so many great nature books here at the library. Would you like me to share them with you?”

Of course, I said YES! After a nice hike (like on virtual field trips), I love to look at books to learn more about what I saw.

Are you still excited about animal tracks? If so, try some of these book recommendations! They are all available at Athens County Public Libraries. Check your local library if you live elsewhere.

Juvenile Non-Fiction

Picture Books

Field Guides

Sarah will be sharing book recommendations twice a month, whenever Program To-Go bags are available at the library.

Do you have a favorite animal book? Share your recommendation in the comments!

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Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Backyard Birding : Virtual Field Trip

White-breasted Nuthatch
The white-breasted nuthatch is one of the birds I often see at my feeder. Photo: DaPuglet.

Grab your binoculars! Birding or bird watching is a fantastic hobby to be enjoyed by all! While some of our feathered friends have flown south to warmer climates, there are many species still around all winter.

Birds that stay in Ohio in winter are designed to survive here. But you can still help birds survive by putting habitat and food around your home. It’s especially helpful anywhere human buildings have replaced trees and bird food. A side perk: you’ll get to see way more birds!

Join us for a virtual field trip about winter birds on Friday, December 18. Or try some of the bird-watching activities below.

CHOOSE YOUR BIRD-WATCHING PATH

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, December 18 at 10:30 a.m.

Outside (or by a window): Go bird-watching right in your own neighborhood!

Winter Birds: Virtual Field Trip

Friday, Dec. 18, 10:30am

Our bird feeders aren’t quite as elaborate as these feeders at the Cornell FeederWatch cam. But they’ll still attract some cool birds to show you.

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 look at who visits our bird feeders in winter, bird tracks, and feathers.

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

Helping Birds Get Through Winter

Bird - Blue Jay
This blue jay is puffing up to stay warm. Photo: blmiers2.

Habitat is a Necessity

Birds, just like humans, need food and ways to protect themselves from winter weather. They also use their habitat as protection from predators, like raccoons, snakes, and cats! Meow!

Evergreens and shrubs or bushes are great habitat for songbirds in the winter months, when other plants are harder to come by

Here are some ideas to make yards welcoming to birds in winter:

  • Plant native shrubs and plants. Planting them now means they’ll have a headstart in spring.
  • Put water (like a birdbath) out near bushes. Birds like to drink near places to hide. If there are cats nearby, skip this idea!
  • Leave piles of leaves in the yard. These old leaves hold tasty grubs and insects for birds to eat.
  • Make brush piles of old sticks and logs. This makes shelter for birds when the weather in extreme. These might attract other animals as well, like rabbits and snakes. So stay alert around them.
  • And of course–birdfeeders are a fun way to give birds food while also learning about them! More on this below.

Read these and more ideas for winterizing your yard from the Audubon Society.

Build a Bird Feeder

Want to start feeding birds? Here is an easy way to make a bird feeder.

What you need:

  • pinecone
  • peanut butter or sun butter
  • bird seed
  • string

Follow these steps:
1. Slather the pinecone in peanut or sun butter.
2. Roll it in seeds.
3. Attach a piece of string to the pinecone.
4. Hang it in a tree. Birds like having branches to hide on near the feeder.
5. Watch and see who visits!

What should I feed birds?

Different food will attract different birds. Robins like worms, and blue jays like sunflower seeds. We find black sunflower seeds and peanuts attract the most kinds of birds.

You can experiment with different kinds of bird food, and see if different birds show up. Or play around with this feeder guide from Project Feeder Watch to see what kinds of food attract which birds.

It’s all in the beak

The size and shape of bird’s beak can tell you a lot about what the bird eats. Think about the following birds and their beak sizes and shapes. You can compare them to how we use different tools to eat different things.

  • Hummingbirds use their long, skinny beaks to eat nectar from flowers. Try drinking juice through a straw for an easy comparison!
  • Mourning Doves like to eat seeds. Try using tweezers to pick up rice.
  • Ducks eat aquatic life and animals. Try using a slotted spoon to eat your ramen noodles.
  • Robins like to eat worms. Now try using chopsticks to eat your ramen noodles.

Try this game to see if you can match birds to their beaks! Next time you eat something, think about what kind of beak a bird would need to get your food in its mouth.

Bird - Duck - Mallard
Mallards’ beaks hold onto food but let water pour out. Photo: blmiers2.

Your Turn: Look for Neighborhood Birds!

Where Have All The Cardinals Gone?
The northern cardinal, the state bird of Ohio, stays here all winter. Photo: DaPuglet

To start bird-watching, look for spots near your home where birds like to hang out. Did you hang up a bird feeder that will attract them? Or are there lots of bushes or brush piles nearby, making good habitat? Then start watching!

See if you can find some of these bird species. Then see if you can find birds behaving in these ways!

Try to find these bird species…

Bird feeders are good places to find these birds:

(Click on each bird to see pictures, hear their song, and learn more interesting facts.)

Look for these bird behaviors…

Find a bird eating its food.
Find a bird walking up and down a tree trunk or pole.
Find a bird hopping along the ground.
Find a bird in your yard, or in a green space near you. How is it acting? _________________.

Listen for these bird songs…

What’s that you say!? Mnemonics are words that sound similar to a bird’s call. They are fun way to remember bird calls and songs. See if you can hear some of these, even if you don’t see the bird. Or make up your own!

1. “Who cooks for you! Who cooks for you all?” Barred Owl

2. “Drink your tea!” Eastern Towhee

3. “Sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.” Yellow Warbler

4. “Purty, purty, purty.” Northern Cardinal

5. “Peter, Peter, Peter.” Tufted Titmouse

6. “Who’s awake? Me too.” Great Horned Owl

HAPPY BIRDING, FRIENDS!

Categories
Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Tracking Canines and Felines

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

Tracking may have been the first practice of science. Many tracking methods used today are the same ones used by hunter and gathers since the evolution of modern humans! Most mammals are nocturnal or active at dawn or dusk, so it is hard to observe them. But we can learn a lot from the tracks and other evidence animals leave behind.

Want to get started tracking? Join our virtual field trip on Friday, Dec. 11 at 10:30 am to learn some basics. Or try one of the activities below.

CHOOSE HOW YOU WANT TO PRACTICE TRACKING:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, Dec. 11 at 10:30. We’ll introduce you to how to tell canine and feline tracks apart.

Go tracking, paying special attention to feline and canine tracks. Can you tell them apart?

Make a tracking flip book to practice recognizing different tracks.

Observe our trail cam videos. What clues can you put together from what you see? Make some hypotheses about animal behavior.

Tracking 101: Virtual Field Trip

Friday, Dec. 11, 10:30am

Joe, our tracker and educator, found this bear scat while hiking in West Virginia. Compare it to his foot to see how big it is!

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll look for animal tracks. We’ll take a special look at the difference between canine (cat family) and feline (dog family) tracks.

If you try any of the other activities in this post, share them with us at the field trip!

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~~

Tracking challenge: dog or cat?

To go tracking, first choose a good spot. Tracks show up well in soft mud, like on the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers, and ditches. Look in fresh snow, too!

When you find an animal track, start by looking at:

  • the size of the print
  • the shape of the print
  • How many toes are there? How big are they?
  • Can you see any claw marks?

Today, we’ll focus on one tracking challenge that many people wonder about: how do you tell the difference between canine and feline tracks?

Feline means cats and related animals, like cougars or bobcats.
Canine means dogs and related animals, like wolves or coyotes.

Here’s a feline track on the left, and canine on the right:

Left: cat family. Right: dog family.

What differences do you notice between them? Here are some that we look for:

Feline tracks

  • Shaped more like a circle
  • Usually no claw marks
  • Heel pad has 3 lobes (bumps) at the bottom
  • Heel pad has 2 lobes at the top
  • You can find a “C” shape in the empty space between the toes and heel pad.

Canine tracks

  • Shaped more like an oval
  • Can see claw marks
  • Heel pad has two lobes at the bottom
  • Heel pad has 1 lobe at the top
  • You can find a “X” shape in the empty space between the toes and heel pad.

We often find domestic dog and cat tracks around your neighborhood from people’s pets. Here are some of their wild cousins here in Ohio.

Ohio Canines

Coyote

Also called “the prairie wolf.”

Coyote
Photo: ODNR

Track info:

  • Size: 2 5/8 – 3 1/2 inches long
  • Number of toes: 4
  • Empty space between the heel and toes looks like an “X”
  • Front tracks are larger than the back tracks
  • Claw marks stand out most on the two inner toes

Habitat: Coyotes typically live in brushy areas, along the edge of forests and in open farmlands.

A coyotes like to sleep in dens, like under a hollow tree, or a rock cavity. They will sometime dig their own den as well. Many canines are very good at digging.

Common behavior: Coyotes travel on ridges or old trails. They may live by themselves, a male and female pair, or as a family. Coyotes are great hunters because there are very stealthy. They eat a variety of smaller mammals, mostly rabbits.

Red fox

American red fox - Wikidata
Photo: Wikidata

Track info:

  • Size:1 7/8 – 2 7/8 inches long
  • Number of toes: 4
  • Often, you can see light fur marks in the tracks, because they have fur on the bottom of their feet!
  • Claw marks are very small, like a little point.

Habitat: The red fox lives mostly on the borders of forest and open fields. They avoid dense and deep woods.

Red fox typically sleep on the ground. But when they have young pups (baby foxes), they sleep in dens. Fox dens are underground and they make grass beds for the young. It is common for the fox to have two dens and travel between the two.

Common behavior: Fox like to live in families. Female foxes typically have 4-7 pups a litter. They are nocturnal animals but are active at dawn and dusk. Red fox like to travel the same paths, which eventually over time become a worn animal trail.

Gray fox

Foxes of Cuyahoga Valley National Park | Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley  National Park
https://www.conservancyforcvnp.org/foxes-of-cuyahoga-valley-national-park/

Track info:

  • Size: 1 3/8 – 1 7/8 inches long (smaller than red fox or coyote),
  • Number of toes: 4
  • Empty space between the heel and toes looks like more like an “H” than an “X.”
  • Unlike other canines, you may not see claw marks because their nails are are very thin.

Habitat: The gray fox lives in the woods. They stay in older forests at night, and young, denser forests during the day. Unlike red foxes, they avoid farms and humans. So humans do not see gray foxes as often as red ones.

They will often climb and sleep in trees! This is pretty unusual for a canine.

Common behavior: The gray fox is typically nocturnal. They are omnivores and forage on fruits and small predators like mice and rabbits.

Ohio Felines

Bobcat

Popescu Lab Takes on 4-Year Study of Bobcats Returning 'Home' to Ohio - Ohio  University | College of Arts & Sciences
https://www.ohio-forum.com/2018/02/popescu-lab-takes-4-year-study-bobcats-returning-home-ohio/

Today, the bobcat is the only wild cat in Ohio! There used to also be cougars (mountain lions), but the last cougars in Ohio disappeared about 100 years ago.

Around then, bobcats were almost extinct as well. But scientists and wildlife agencies worked bring them back. Six years ago, they declared that bobcats are no longer threatened or endangered in Ohio.

Track info

  • Size: 15/8 – 21/2 inches
  • Number of toes: 4
  • Note 3 lobes (bumps) at the bottom on the track. This is an important clue that it is cat!
  • This track is also very round. If you drew a line all around it, it would be close to a circle.
  • The empty spaces between the heel pad and toes curve like “C.”

Habitat: The bobcat often sticks to dense forest. But bobcats are also habitat generalists. That means they will live in almost any kind of habitat: rocky areas, timbered swamps or old fields.

Most of the time, bobcats rest in standing or fallen hollow trees. But when bobcats are breeding, they have very, very hidden dens. In the den, they make nests out of dried leaves and soft moss.

Common behavior: The bobcats are solitary and socially distance from each other more than canines. Bobcats are known to be very curious and investigate many objects across their very large home ranges. They can also leap up to 10 feet high! Exploring rocky cliff areas would be no problem for a bobcat.

Interested in learning more about mammals in Ohio?

Check out the ODNR mammal field guide (PDF) for more information!

Make your own flip book

This video shows you an easy way to make your own mini book.

Making your own guide to tracks will help you remember them much better than reading about them!

The video above shows an easy way to make a flip book. Create a page or two for each animal you are interested in. You can use some of the animal information above to start (as well as some of the deer signs we wrote about last week).

For example, on a page about coyotes, you might:

  • Draw a picture of a coyote track
  • Note the size of the track (how many inches wide and tall is it?)
  • Write about the habitat where coyotes live
  • Write down a place or time when you found a coyote track
  • Anything else you can think of!

Many naturalists keep personal nature guides like this to help them learn and reflect on what they find outside. Be creative and enjoy making a personal key to help you practice tracking in the woods!

Observe wildlife on our trail cams

Watch some videos that interest you. Try notice everything you can about the animal’s behavior.

  • What do you think the animal was doing?
  • How is the animal acting ?
  • What else do you notice about the trail cam?
  • If you would set up your own trail cam outside, where would you set it up and why?

Think about what you saw. Can you use what you saw to make any hypotheses about that animal or its behavior?

A hypothesis is an idea or explanation based on evidence or observations. It usually needs more testing before you are sure it is true.

For example, I found bobcat scat (poop) with mouse bones on a nearby beaver dam.

My hypothesis is that the bobcat was drawn to the beaver dam because it is good place to hunt mice.

But this might or might not be true! Can you think of other hypotheses that might explain the scat on the dam? How could we test my hypothesis to see if it is true?

Good luck with the activities & look forward to seeing all of you young naturalists on Friday!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

White-tailed Deer: Virtual Field Trip, Dec. 4th

Whitetail Deer - Brady, TX Area
A buck, or male white-tailed deer. Photo: huntingdesigns 

White-tailed deer are the most common large mammal species in North America. They can be found in all 88 counties of Ohio!

Join us on December 4th’s virtual field trip to learn to recognize signs of deer. We’ll also look at how deer have helped humans survive. Or just read onto learn about deer on your own!

CHOOSE AN ACTIVITY TO LEARN ABOUT WHITE-TAILED DEER:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, December 4th at 10:30. We’ll look for signs of deer and show you how to tan a hide.

Read a story about how the deer got its antlers. Try making a nice bowl of venison stew to complete your cozy evening!

Track a deer: Go outside with this scavenger hunt. You may find clues that show deer has been near.

Deer Virtual Field Trip: Friday, December 4, 2020 at 10:30am

Friday, Dec. 4, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11-ish am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll look for deer sign. Then Joe from Rural Action will demonstrate how to tan (preserve) a deer hide.

A note about this Friday’s content…

We will be showing how to tan a fresh deer hide from a deer that Joe hunted. Families who join the call should be okay with seeing the fresh deer skin. (The rest of the deer will not be shown).

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~~

Fawn - Whitetail deer
A fawn, or baby deer. Photo: bjmccray.

Did you know?

  • The scientific name for whitetails is Odocoileus virginianus.
  • A whitetail deer can run as fast as 30 miles per hour. That’s pretty fast!
  • Water shy? No way! The whitetail can swim at speeds of up to 13 miles per hour.
  • White-tails have a four-chambered stomach, just like cows. The stomach helps them digest the rough plants that makes up their diet. This lets them to eat woody plants that other animals cannot digest.
  • The whitetail is Ohio’s ONLY big game animal. It has been a source of food for generations, beginning with indigenous people
  • Here’s how to sign “deer” in American Sign Language:

Do you know another interesting fact about whitetailed deer? Please share with us by posting it in the comment section!

Tell a deer tale

Did you ever wonder why deer have antlers? Many people have wondered why the world is the way it is. Myths try to answer these questions about the world with a story.

  1. Read this Cherokee myth, “How the Deer Got His Horns” (excerpted from History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas, by James Mooney).
  2. Now, get creative: write your own folklore to imagine how the deer got its antlers. If you have friends or siblings, trade your stories and see which ones you like best. We would love it if you shared it in the comments!
  3. Then, try to think like a scientist. How might a scientist explain why deer have antlers? How could antlers help a buck? Do some research if you need to. Share your ideas below!

Antlers or Horns?

In the story above, the author uses both the words “horns” and “antlers.” But antlers are actually different from horns.

Antlers are found on white-tails and other members of the deer family. They are bone that falls off and regrow. In most species, only males have antlers. Have you ever gone looking for antler sheds? A good time to look is the late winter and early spring, when the bucks shed their antlers.

Horns never come off of an animal. They grow throughout an animal’s life. Pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and bison have horns. Horns are part bone and part hair follicle. Both males and females have horns.

Make venison chili

Mmm... chili
Photo: jeffreyw

Story-telling is best in the winter, when you can curl up by the fire with a warm bowl of stew and listen. People have depended on deer to feed them for a long time. If you are lucky enough to have some venison, warm up with a bowl of venison chili! Ask a parent for help and try making this recipe! Mmmmm!

Scavenger Hunt for Deer Signs

Go outside for a walk. As you walk, search for these clues that deer have come through the area:

Rub: A rub is a spot on a tree where the bark has been rubbed away by a male deer’s antlers. This can scar the tree for a long time. So you may find an old, healed scrape or a fresh one

Scrape: A small area on the ground where a male deer has scraped away leaves and vegetation with his hooves, leaving bare dirt. They may also lick and chew on any branches hanging over that spot, so look up!

Deer habitat is forest with lots of nuts for deer to eat. They also like the places where fields and forests meet. Keep your eyes peeled for oak, hickories, and beech trees. Deer love nuts and fruit! Did you know that deer also eat mushrooms!? Now that’s a FUNgi fact!

Deer trails are little paths through the forest that almost look like a human trail. But they are much narrower than our trails, and may seem to disappear unexpectedly. You might notice leaves have been nibbled on at about the height of a deer’s head.

Deer scat (i.e., deer poop) looks like little round balls.

Deer tracks are common in Ohio. Look in muddy places for 2-3 inch hoof marks. Can you tell which way they were going? The narrow end points the way like an arrow.

Help us decide where to put our game camera!

deer - Hampton Virginia
 Photo: watts_photos .

We need your help! Cast your vote to help us decide where to put our team’s game camera. Pick which location you think will have the most deer activity! We will put the camera in the place with the most votes. Pictures will be shared on the virtual field trip on December 4, 2020.

Voting ends on November 29, 2020.

*Already have some cool pictures!? We want to see them! Post your favorite white-tail pictures in the comments.*

Categories
Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Turkey Talk: Virtual Field Trip

wild turkey
Photo: ASHISH SHARMA, Pexels.com

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 needpix.com
Flock- A group of turkeys
Nature,wildlife,animals,birds,game bird - free image from needpix.com
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, 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.

Categories
Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Exploring the Forest Floor: Virtual Field Trip

Have you ever been out in the woods, seen a decomposing log on the ground, and flipped it over to see what’s hiding underneath? Were you surprised at what you found? Grubs and worms and snails–and all the other squishy bugs and animals that help the forest floor do its thing. 

Join us on Zoom for a virtual field trip to explore the forest floor this Friday, November 13, 2020. Or read on for ideas for exploring the forest floor yourself!

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, November 13, 2020. Turn over leaves and logs with us!

Read about the levels of decomposition. We’re calling in the FBI (fungus, bacteria and invertebrates).

Go on a forest floor scavenger hunt. We have some suggestions for what you can look for down on the ground.

Attend the Virtual Field Trip

Friday, October 23, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:00am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, our naturalists will turn over logs and dig under leaves. Let’s see what we can find when we get down low on the ground!

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~~

Layers of the forest

As most of you know, forests are very complex ecosystems. They have many layers, all working together to keep things healthy and stable. The forest floor is one of the most important, and probably the most overlooked, of these layers. 

The forest floor is the link between the above-ground plants and animals, and the underground soil and nutrients that help the forest grow. When you look at it above ground, it mostly looks like clutter–leaves, logs, bark, branches–and not much life. But if you take a closer look, you’ll notice that this layer has an entire mini ecosystem of its own!

Invertebrates, fungi, algae, bacteria: these small organisms work together to decompose (break down) that layer of clutter and turn it into a beautiful, nutritious soil. Let’s learn more about what these organisms are.

Levels of Decomposition

Decomposition is essential to all life! It is the process of taking something that was once alive (like dead trees and animals) and turning it into fuel for future life.  

Invertebrates

Invertebrates are the first level of decomposition in the ecosystem of the forest floor. Invertebrates are insects and other small critters without backbones. These insects and their allies feast on the litter on the ground. For example:

  • Ants break down leaves and other plant parts for food. Ants dig tunnels, which helps bring oxygen into the soil. This makes room for other plants to grow. Ants also eat other, more destructive insects like termites or aphids. Termites and aphids can kill living plants before it is their time.
  • Snails and slugs eat a variety of plants and fungi. When they digest the plants and poop them out, they return nutrients from the plant to the soil, so other plants can use it.
  • Worms eat the freshly decomposed soil made by other invertebrates. They filter it through their bodies to make their own special fertilizer.  However, some earthworms are invasive, or from other parts of the world. They can decompose the litter on the forest floor too quickly!

Fungi

Mushrooms and other fungi are the next level of decomposition. In some places, algae is more common.

Most mushrooms are much bigger than the toadstool you see. That little aboveground mushroom is just a small growth on its large web of its underground, cobweb-like “roots.” These underground webs and strands are called mycelium.

A fungus’ mycelium can grow for miles. The mycelium will eat everything they can get into! Instead of digesting food inside of them, like we do in our bellies, they disintegrate the food all around them, then absorb it. Some of that disintegrated matter is left in the soil for other organisms. The process can even clean pollution out of the soil!

Mutualism
Some kinds of mycelium and trees help each other out. The strands of mycelium grow around the roots of trees, and help the trees get water and food. The tree gives the mycorrhizae a home where it can to grow and reproduce. This is called a mutualist relationship, which is a kind of symbiosis.

Can you think of other things in a forest that have this type of relationship?

Bacteria

The final level of decomposition goes to bacteria and other microscopic organisms. Bacteria are single-celled organisms (teeny tiny pieces of life). These bacteria feed on dead plants, animals, and even fungi.

Bacteria are super important to the cycling of nutrients in soil called carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are kind of like plant vitamins. Plants need them to live. So it is very important that they get returned from dead plants to living plants!

Your turn: How to explore the forest floor

You might want: a magnifying glass and a small plastic container to hold specimens

autumn blur boletus close up
Photo: Lum3n on Pexels.com

Now that you know the layers of decomposition within a forest floor, go outside and try to find some invertebrates, fungus or bacteria!

Start by flipping over rocks or logs.

  • What do you see?
  • Can you see any of the bugs (invertebrates) that help with the first layer of decomposition?
  • Can you find a silky substance that looks kind of like an underground spiderweb? (This is the mycelium).
  • What do you think these do, and how do you think they work together?
  • For more ideas about what to look for, try the scavenger hunt below.
Forest Floor Scavenger Hunt

Look under logs and leaf litter for these signs of decomposition:

  • Worms
  • Worm trails
  • Grubs
  • Roly-poly (potato bug)
  • Slugs
  • Slug trails or slime
  • Snails
  • Mushrooms
  • Mycelium (mushroom “roots”), usually a silky substance found in the log itself. It might look like cobwebs or long skinny strands.
  • Ants
  • Salamanders

When you look for these things, try to use all your senses! What do they look, smell, sound, or feel like? Remember not to eat anything though, unless you have a trusted adult, or really want to eat a worm. 

Remember to put everything back where you found it after checking things out! This includes rolling logs back where you found them, and returning the leaves. While it may not seem like it, the forest floor is one of the most important and delicate aspects of the forest ecosystem. Remember, leave no trace! 

Take pictures or make some art based on what you find, and share in the comments below!

Categories
Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Caves and Rock Shelters: a Virtual Field Trip

A caver sits by an underground lake in Wind Cave. NPS Photo.

How are caves made? On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll ask a Cave Interpreter about it! Then we’ll visit a “rock shelter” right here in southeast Ohio. It turns out that our rock shelters were formed in a completely different way than underground caves most people know about.

Sometimes we call rock shelters “caves.” For example, you might have visited Old Man’s Cave in the Hocking Hills. Old Man’s Cave is actually a rock shelter. True caves are completely underground, but Old Man’s Cave is open to the air.

Old Man’s Cave in the Hocking Hills is actually an example of a rock shelter, not a true cave. Photo: Daveynin
CHOICES FOR LEARNING ABOUT CAVES AND ROCK SHELTERS

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:30. See Wind Cave and an Ohio rock shelter.

Learn about erosion and rock formations in Hocking Hills: Watch these fun videos from Camp Oty’Okwa.

Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:30 am

Friday, October 23, 10:30am

Every Friday from 10:30 to 11:15 am, we hold a Zoom call live from the woods. This week, we’ll meet a Cave Interpreter, and visit a rock shelter here in Southeast Ohio.

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, visit here:

You’ll receive the Zoom link for our virtual field trips in your email.

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

Inside Wind Cave. NPS Photo.

Long Live Rock (Shelters)! The story of the Hocking Hills

First, let’s take a big jump back in time. Can you imagine most of Ohio covered in ice? Millions of years ago, it was! 

A glacier is a huge, slow-moving sheet of ice. As glaciers moved across the land, they left their mark on the landscape. Many of Ohio’s landforms, which are features that you can see on the surface of the Earth, were created by glaciers.

Argentina: Glaciers | Evaneos
This is a glacier in Argentina

If you live in southeast Ohio, you live in the part of Ohio that is “unglaciated” . That just means the glacier didn’t go through that area. Take a journey with Miranda to see some of southeast Ohio’s geology and how it was created. 

Miranda introduces us to a cool sandstone rock formation in the Hocking Hills. What used to be there millions of years ago that deposited that sand?

The structure in the video is commonly called a rock shelter. A rock shelter is a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff. This is different from other landforms such as caves because it doesn’t go underground. In the next video, we will see a fun example of how a structure like this is created.

Miranda shows us how rock turned into this rock shelter.

In this next video we will explore what erosion, weathering, and deposition and what their impact on the land is. Here is a chart that explains each:

So now we know what weathering is! Let’s explore the 3 different kinds of weathering. 

Here are some examples to think about:

Physical weathering: rust on a tool that was left outside

Biological weathering: weeds coming up through a sidewalk

Chemical weathering: old gravestones disintegrating 

In the second video, we did the Oreo cookie example. Miranda talked about how some of the rock was softer than the other. Click on the next video to see a cool experiment with some of the rocks from the rock shelter.

Thank you for watching! Make sure you go out and practice spotting erosion, weathering, and deposition in your area!


Art Activity: Draw what you learned

  •  Using what you learned in the lesson, draw a picture that includes weathering, erosion, and depositions and as many landforms as you want. Make sure everything is labeled. I attached my example: 
Miranda's drawing of different landforms and how they are forming.

On Your Own: Take an Erosion Walk!

Now that you’ve learned about how rocks change, it’s time to take a walk outside! Erosion and weathering doesn’t always look like big rock shelters or cliffs. It can also happen to the soil in your yard, along sidewalks or construction sites, on the edges of creeks…any soil or rock might be affected!

Review some of the words you learned above, and hunt for signs of:

  • erosion
  • physical weathering
  • biological weathering
  • chemical weathering
  • deposition.

Tell us what you find or share a photo in the comments!