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Nature Show and Tell: Virtual Field Trip

Our friend Zella showed us these signs of beaver activity. We love sharing our discoveries with each other!

Nature show-and-tell is back! We are calling on YOU to be part of this week’s virtual field trip!

Bring your nature objects, pictures or stories to the zoom call on Friday for show and tell. We will take turns sharing, kids and adults both!

Exploring nature is part of how our team stays healthy and happy. Learn some ways we use our outside time in this week’s “Nature and Self-Care” blog post.

Virtual Field Trip: Friday, January 22, 2020

Prepare for this week’s field trip by finding something to share! You could ‘show’:

  • something you found outside, like a plant, rock or mystery item
  • a picture of a natural object
  • a story about an experience you had outside
  • something about nature you’ve been learning a lot about lately

There are no wrong choices. We welcome any nature-related shares!

Join us at 10:30am on Friday, January 22.

If you’ve registered for virtual field trips in the past, your same registration link will continue to work.

Sarah found this morel mushroom last spring. It was a great day!

What will you ‘tell’ about your nature object for show and tell? You might share:

  • Where you found this nature object
  • Why this nature item is interesting to you
  • Something you’ve learned about the nature item recently
  • Questions you have about the nature item (the other people on the virtual field trips are really smart!)

If you don’t want to share anything, that’s okay too. You can listen to other people.

How Nature Helps Us Be Happy and Healthy

How do we discover most of our cool nature finds? Usually, we just stumble across them when we spend time outside!

Most of us here at Rural Action go outside almost every day to play, walk, or just sit and listen. It’s part of how we take care of ourselves. We each have our favorite way to relax outside. Read about some of ours in our latest post:

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Foraging for Plants in Winter : Virtual Field Trip

Looking at plants at Burr Oak State Park.

Winter…everything has turned from green to brown, and seems quiet. But if you know how to look, you’ll see how plants are surviving the cold and darkness. And you can also gather plants to help you have food and warmth, even in winter!

On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll show you how plants survive the winter–and how plants can help people through winter too!

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, January 15 at 10:30am on Zoom.

Gather information about plants by reading this post.

Play a matching game to practice identifying plants in winter vs summer.

Gather winter plants. We share four ways you can eat, drink, or make fire from plants in this post.

Virtual Field Trip, Jan. 15 at 10:30am

Teasel is a prickly plant I see often in fields in winter.

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 be foraging in the winter woods.

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 us to set up a zoom field trip just for your classroom.

How Plants Make it to Spring

Cold is a problem for plants. When water freezes into ice, it gets bigger. When water in plant cells freezes, it can burst apart the plants cells.

Photo: pmhudepo 

But cold is not the only danger! Winter means less water. If water is frozen, plants can’t get to it. So plants also have to survive without much water until spring.

There’s also less sunlight. So plants are getting less energy from the sun, even as they have to work harder to survive.

So how do plants survive the cold, little water and little sun? Two common strategies are making seeds and making fat roots. A few plants, like evergreens, have special leaves that can stay alive.

Seeds

Some plants die in the fall, but not before making lots of seeds. The individual plants might not survive, but their children will grow when spring comes! These plants are called annuals, which means ‘yearly,’ because their life cycle lasts just one year.

This plant has died, but its fluffy seeds may go on to grow. Photo: Stevesworldofphotos.

Seeds can wait a long time before they sprout, waiting for a sign that it’s safe to grow: they might wait for sunlight, more water, or even a bird pecking them open before they start sprouting.

You can learn to identify plants even in winter, by the shape of their seed heads! Because seeds come from flowers, a plant’s summer flowers often have a similar shape as their seed heads. I love watching plants change through the season. It is fun and helps me find useful plants.

Practice matching winter and summer plants with this game:

Make fire with seed heads

Humans have strategies for surviving winter too. One is fire!

To start a fire, you need light, fluffy, dry material called tinder. People today might use cardboard or paper. That works well if you have matches. But what about before paper or matches existed?

Joe shows us how to start a friction fire on a virtual field trip.

 One way to start a fire without matches is using flint and steel to make a spark. These sparks only last a second, so they need to land on something that catches fire very easily. Another way is to make a friction fire with wood (see the video above). Friction fires make a small, delicate coal. Those coals also need very light tinder to catch fire and grow.

Goldenrod seed heads can be used to start fires. Dry them out first!

Fluffy winter seeds are good tinder for these fires! We like to use goldenrod, like in the picture above. They usually need to dry inside for a few days before they will catch a spark.

Your turn:

Collect some goldenrod seed heads and dry them out. Next time you build a fire, try using them as tinder. How do they work? How fast do they light?

Roots

Some plants live multiple years. They are called perennials, which means something that comes back over and over. One way to do that is to make a fat, sugary root!

Ginseng is a plant that can live 100 years by growing back from its roots each spring. Photo: Sam Droege

Underground is a safe place to be in winter. The freezing and frost on the surface only reaches a little ways underground. Leaves, mulch or snow can also protect the ground from getting too cold. Deep in the soil, it feels more like a refrigerator than a freezer.

Plants make food from the sun. In the fall, some perennials put the food in their roots, saving it for later. If you’ve ever eaten a potato or a carrot, you have benefited from this! Those tubers were the plants’ way of saving food for spring (or your belly).

When it’s safe to come out in spring, fresh stems and leaves will sprout from the root.

Make Fire Cider with Horseradish

Horseradish is one plant that makes a big root. Its root can be good medicine for fighting winter colds! Try making this spicy plant medicine. Next time your head feels stuffy, it will help clear it out. Try it as a salad dressing or in water.

Preparing the ingredients for fire cider. Photo: Multnomah County Library

Fire Cider Recipe:

Ingredients:

  •  3 cups  apple cider vinegar
  •  1/2 cup grated horseradish or garlic mustard root 
  • 1/8 cup garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup wild leeks, chopped (or chopped onions)
  • 1/2 cup of grated ginger
  •  1 tsp.  cayenne

Instructions:

Place all ingredients in a 4 cup mason jar and fill with apple cider vinegar leaving some space. Be sure all ingredients are mixed well. Cover.

Steep for 8 weeks in a dark, cool location.

Strain into clean jar. Then store in a dark location up to one year.

Our friends at United Plant Savers recorded this class if you’d like more detailed instructions:

Staying low

A few plants stay alive and green by keeping their leaves low to the ground. Cuddled up to the warmer earth, they might be sheltered by dead leaves. Less cold air reaches them. These plants often only live for two years or so.

Mullein can keep its leaves alive in winter by huddling down on the ground. It’s also called “lamb’s ear” because it is so soft and fuzzy. Photo: waldopics.

Gather chickweed for winter salads

This little plant grows in yards and gardens. Some people think it is a weed. I think it is delicious!

Chickweed is an annual, but sometimes you see it grows anyway. Its seed sprout quickly, and it is so low-lying that it can be protected by the cold by hills and leaves.

Try gathering chickweed to add to your salads. Here’s how to recognize it:

Leaves: pointed and oval shaped, opposite growth pattern (that means they grow directly across from each other)

Flowers: Chickweed flowers are very small, they have 5 double-lobed white petals. Double lobed means divided in two, so it might look like they have 10 petals 

Parts to eat: leaves, stems, and flowers are all edible and can be eaten raw. Try adding them to your next salad. 

Evergreen trees

Most plants stop doing anything in winter. They stop photosynthesizing, prepare their seeds or roots, and wait. But not evergreen trees!

It takes a lot of energy to make leaves and needles. Evergreen trees don’t want to waste that energy by dropping leaves. So they make special needle-shaped leaves that are protected from cold and dryness.

White pine is an evergreen tree in Ohio. You can make tea from its needles.

Needles are a better shape for holding onto water. Why? They have less surface area.

Think about hanging up a towel to dry. You want to hang it flat and spread out. More of a flat towel is exposed to the air, so it dries faster. But if you ball the towel up on the bathroom floor, it will stay wet for a long time! Less of its surface is exposed.

A typical leaf is like the flat towel. An evergreen needle is like the balled up towel.

Evergreen needles also have a special wax on them that keeps water from evaporating. It’s like covering food with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. If you’ve ever touched an evergreen needle, you’ve felt this wax! It’s why needles feel heavier than typical leaves.

Make Pine Needle Tea

Historically, plants and vegetables were the hardest food to find in winter. Humans ended up eating more meat (because there were still animals to hunt) or more grains (because you could store grain for a long time). But we need the nutrients in plants to be healthy. 

Sailors used to have this problem too, because there are no plants at sea. Without enough vitamin C from vegetables, they got a disease called scurvy that made their teeth fall out. They started bringing limes with them to stay healthy.

Teas are a great way to get plant nutrients in winter! The garden might be dead, and pine needles don’t make a great salad. But boil the pine needles in water, and you’ll get a tasty tea with plenty of vitamin C. You can add lemon and honey, too.

Here’s how to identify white pine:

Needles: come in bundles of five, 3-5 inches long, bluish green, with fine white lines also called stomatas. 
Cones: 3-6 inches long, thinning out near the tip, with cone scales without prickles and light tan to whitish in color on outer edge of the scales.

Your Turn

Try collecting some winter plants for warmth or food! In this post, we’ve showed you how to:

Choose one and try it! How did it go? Was it hard or easy to find the plant? How did it taste?

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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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Happy New Year, and see you January 8th!

We’ve been putting nature displays in local windows this winter. Take a walk past the Hive (in Nelsonville), the Glouster library (in Glouster), or the Tecumseh Theatre (in Shawnee) to see them!

We hope everyone enjoys the holiday season, and spends some time outside. We’ll be curled up and hibernating like this fox for the next two weeks. Virtual field trips will start again on Friday, January 8th.

Here are the topics coming up in January:

  • Lichens (January 8)
  • Foraging Winter Plants (January 15) (ACPL program to-go kit available)
  • Nature Show and Tell (January 22)
  • Animal Tracks (January 29) (ACPL program to-go kit available)

Do you have a topic you’d like to see on a virtual field trip? Please leave a comment or email darcy@ruralaction.org! We may use your idea in February!

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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!

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Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Tracking Canines and Felines

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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 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!