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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!

Categories
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!

Categories
Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Halloween Special on Fear in Nature

What is fear?

Fear is a part of our everyday life. It may even have evolved because it is useful: fear helps us recognize danger, so that we can survive!

But sometimes, we are afraid even where there is not danger. Many people are afraid of spiders, the dark, or snakes. But you weren’t born with these fears. You learned them.

The best way to get over your fears? Learn about them! On this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll talk about spiders and other crawly creatures. Face your fears with us, and see if it changes your mind!

CHOOSE HOW YOU WILL FACE YOUR FEARS:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, October 30th at 10:30. Meet spiders and other crawly creatures.

Play the Spider Memory game! It will help you learn which Ohio spiders are harmless or venomous.

Interview a spider: Find a spider to observe. You may find it is more cool than scary.

Virtual Field Trip on Zoom: Friday, October 30 at 10:30am

I think this jumping spider is actually pretty cute.

Join us Halloween zoom special as we discuss many common outdoor fears! Learn what you should be careful of in the woods, and what is actually harmless.

We’ll meet a not-so-scary animal with no legs! And a few other animals with lots of legs. Spider expert Sarah Rose will visit to teach us about ways spiders hunt.

You are welcome to share what you are afraid of in nature, big or small.

Register for fall field trips!

~~We’ll post the recording of the event here by the following Monday.~~

Can’t make it? Read on to try some fear-conquering activities on your own!

Get to Know Ohio’s Spiders

a white-banded crab spider sitting in the center of a passionflower
Can you spot the white-banded crab spider in this picture? Darcy found it camouflaged on the passionflowers in her garden.

What role do spiders play in the ecosystem?

Spiders are predators, which means they eat other insects and even each other.  Predators are an important part of the food web. They help control insect populations:

  • They can help control indoor pest infestations (so your house isn’t overwhelmed with bugs)
  • They help control pest infestations in agricultural fields (so that insects don’t eat everything in farmers’ fields or gardens).

Humans and Spiders:  Do we need to be scared of spiders?

Are you scared of spiders? Many people have a fear of spiders. This is known as arachnophobia. But here are some reasons you don’t need to be afraid!

  • Most spiders do have venom.  But this venom is not harmful to humans! It is for hunting their small prey.
  • Spiders rarely bite humans. We think spiders bite more often than they actually do. This is because doctors have misdiagnosed bites and people have misidentified spiders.

Want to learn more?

Check out the Ohio Department of Natural Resource Spiders of Ohio Guide (pdf) to learn about 54 more spiders found in Ohio: 

Play the spider memory game

Go through this presentation to learn about 10 spiders found in Ohio.  At the end of the presentation, play 3 rounds of memory to become an expert identifier of these 10 spiders!

Here’s a video with instructions on playing the game:

You might have noticed that there are only two spiders in Ohio whose bites could be serious: the recluse and the black widow. They are rare spiders! Learn more about the rare biting spiders in Ohio here.

Try this: Interview a Spider

Our friend met a yellow garden spider!

Conduct an interview with a spider! You will need a paper & writing utensil to take notes during your interview.

First, go outside and try to find a spider. Here are some tips for finding your 8-legged friend:

  • Flip over some old logs or stones.
  • Look in webs between trees or on the outside of buildings.
  • Use a stick to look through leaf litter on the ground or in tall grass

Like we said above, there are only two spiders in Ohio that are a concern for human health:

  • Brown recluses are all brown with darker “violin shape” on their abdomen. Ohio is at the far edge of their home range, so they are rare.
  • Black widows are a shiny black, with a bright red hourglass or triangles on their belly.

    You can safely ask any other spider for an interview. That means most of the spiders you meet!

Once you find a spider, do not pick it up or trap it in anything. Just observe politely!

During the interview, pretend you are following the spider around like a news reporter, documenting the daily life of the spider.

I met this fishing spider on a tree. After a nice interview, it told me it was on its way to go fishing for insects at the creek.

You can also try asking your spider its name. But if it doesn’t answer, check out the ODNR Spiders of Ohio guide to see if you can identify it.

Here are some activities you can do during your interview:

  • Draw a picture or take a picture of the spider
  • Once you identify the spider, note 3 facts from the field guide about the spider.
  • Observe the spider’s actions during your interview. Is the spider fast or slow? Is it hiding or hunting bugs? Can the spider jump or swim?
  • What is interesting to you about the spider? Is there any bright colors on the spider? Is there anything unique about the spider?

After your interview is over, share your interview with a friend or family member. Or tell us about it in the comments below!

Categories
Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Saving Hellbenders with the Wilds: Virtual Field Trip, Oct. 23rd

The hellbender salamander, also called the ‘snot otter,’ is on the decline in Ohio. The Wilds, near Zanesville, Ohio, is trying to change that. Photo: Andrew Hoffman, licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A smile I simply cannot resist! Hellbenders are North America’s largest salamander. They can grow up to approximately two feet in length (twenty-nine inches). Nicknames include:

  • Snot otter
  • lasagna lizard
  • mud devil
  • devil dog
  • ground puppy
  • (Do you have another one?)

These impressive creatures have been around for more than 150 million years, but are in danger. On this week’s virtual field trip, biologists at the Wilds will give us a tour of their hellbender recovery project.

CHOOSE AN ACTIVITY TO LEARN ABOUT HELLBENDERS:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, October 23 at 10:30 a.m. Details below!

On your own, inside: Read about hellbenders below. Then make lasagna to honor lasagna lizards!

On your own, outside: take a stream selfie and clean up litter.

Hellbenders at the Wilds: 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, the conservation biologists at the Wilds will give us a tour of their hellbender salamander lab!

They’ll show us baby and adult hellbenders. They’ll share how the Wilds is helping the hellbender population grow–and how you can help this endangered species too! You’ll also learn about what it’s like to be a conservation biologist.

The Wilds is a safari-style ‘zoo’ in Cumberland, Ohio. They have turned damaged, strip-mined land into a center for threatened animal recovery.

If you missed it, here is the recording:

Where Hellbenders Live

Hellbenders are a fully aquatic species of salamander! Clean, fast-moving river water is an ideal habitat. The water must be cool, so shady trees help. Look for large rocks with accessible crevices and places where this salamander can hide.

They are very sensitive to pollution and sediment (bits of dirt and dust) in the water. That is why it is so rare to see one. But we keep hoping we will one day!

Worth Pugh measuring a hellbender
Scientists measure a wild hellbender salamander. Photo: USFWS/Southeast/license CC BY 2.0

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

They have a flat head, wrinkly body, and paddle-shaped tail. Usually these salamanders are dark grey or brown in color with dark spots along the back.

They breathe through their skin! So the wrinklier their skin is, the more oxygen they get from the water.

WHAT IT EATS

These salamanders feast on crawdads, smalls fish, snails, and worms. Hellbenders are also known to be cannibalistic. That means a bigger salamander may see a smaller salamander as an opportunistic meal! Gulp!

WHERE IT LIVES

Rivers in the eastern United States, including the Appalachian region.

Hellbender
 An adult hellbender salamander. Photo: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region, licensed CC PDM 1.0

What’s your favorite nickname for the hellbender? I personally love snot otter. Post your answer in the comments and tell us why!

On your own: Make Lasagna!

In honor of their nickname, lasagna lizards, bake some lasagna for your next meal! This activity may require adult supervision. Benders have flaps of skin on their sides, which provide extra surface area to help them breathe through their skin, but it also kind of makes them look like lasagna, which is where the nickname comes from.

Smiley woman cooking in the kitchen Free Vector

Traditional lasagna recipe

Vegetarian lasagna recipe

Own your own: Snap a selfie!

More cheese, please! Cheese, as in smile, that is! Participate in Stream Selfie. This is a citizen science project that was designed to help monitor waterways (and healthy waterways are crucial for hellbenders).

Take a picture of yourself in or by a waterway, tell us your location and the condition of the stream. Some things to pay attention to might be:

  • How big is the waterway?
  • Is the water clean?
  • Are there fish living in there?
  • What other species of animals do you see?
    • learn more about using insects/fish to tell if a stream is healthy in this post.
  • What might make this good or bad habitat for a species like a hellbender?

Post your selfie in the comments!

Rock creek park Free Photo
Promising hellbender habitat.

While you’re there, take some time to pick up any litter around the stream. Hellbenders and other species are very sensitive to pollution. By keeping the creek clean, you help the animals that live there.