Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Winter Wetlands: Virtual Field Trip

The Rutherford Wetland near Carbon Hill this winter. Photo: Emily Walter

A frozen lake, pond, or wetland might be a tempting ice-skating rink. But a thick layer of ice on top doesn’t stop aquatic life from calling these places home. This week, we explore how animals survive when their home freezes into ice. You can:

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, February 19th at 10:30 am on Zoom.

Find a winter nature spot to make observations. The more you visit, the more you’ll notice!

Virtual Field Trip, Feb. 12 at 10:30 am

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 investigating frozen ponds and those who live in them.

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.

The birth of a wetland

By Emily

Last week, Sarah and I visited the Rutherford Wetland at the Ora Anderson Nature Trail outside Carbon Hill. I have visited countless wetlands in my life, both near my home in Athens County and far. I am always struck by how beautiful and calm these places can be. I love to see waterfowl like ducks and blue herons. But, this wetland is especially interesting to me.

The Rutherford Wetland hasn’t always been water. It used to be woods along Monday Creek, and sometimes the woods flooded. Then, all the trees were cut down to make farms. And a railroad was built right through these low-lying farm fields.

In the 1990s, the Wayne National Forest took over the land, and it began to change again. Beavers moved in. The beavers dammed up the farm fields, flooding them. That created the diverse wetland I saw last week.

Beaver Dams

A beaver dam blocks a stream, creating a wetland on the right. Photo: Fred Dunn.

Beavers create or change wetlands with their dams. The dams are walls of sticks and mud. These walls block streams from flowing freely. The water usually gets deeper and spreads out into a pond or wetland. Plants change, and animals are drawn to the habitat. This is how a bunch of fields turned into the Rutherford wetland!

I find the Rutherford Wetland so interesting because its story shows how wetlands can adjust to new conditions. This land was stripped of all its trees, heavily farmed, and had an industrial railroad running through it. But now it’s a healthy ecosystem for beavers, fish, ducks, and songbirds.

Wetlands get to work

All wetlands have ways to deal with flooding and pollution. Wetlands soak up extra water that human concrete keeps from soaking into the soil. They absorb lots of rainwater, too.

Wetlands hold onto that water and release it more slowly. This prevents floods when it’s too rainy. And when the weather is too dry, wetlands keep streams flowing with all the water they saved up.

The quality of our water is improved when it goes through a wetland. Wetlands filter out pollutants from our lawns, cars and factories. This makes our drinking water safer and better for animals to live in. This isn’t an excuse to dump our waste in wetlands, but they do a good job cleaning up what mess we do make.

A wetland comeback story

Madison shared with me a great story about a wetland in New Jersey that was mistreated. But like the Rutherford wetland, it bounced back with human help. Now it provides habitat to fish, crabs, and seabirds. Listen to me read it, if you’d like:

A picture book about why we should protect wetlands.

Wetlands, and the critters inside them, also adapt to winter. When Sarah and I were at Rutherford last week, the whole wetland was frozen. The best way to start understanding these changes? Make your own observations!

Outdoor activity: Watching the seasons change

A beautiful winter pond Sarah observed. Photo: Sarah Haney

You will need:

  • Paper or a notebook
  • Something to write or draw with

Now is a great time to observe winter changes—Athens County is currently in a level 2 snow emergency. This is some pretty beautiful winter weather, but it’s also recommended you don’t drive. So pick an outdoor area near your home to make your winter observations.

Your nature spot doesn’t have to be big. A pond, little stream, or small garden is nice. But even a patch of grass or bushes is fine.

At your spot, observe nature and take detailed notes or drawings. Do it over and over and over and over and over again! Why? If you watch day after day, you’ll be an eyewitness to the wonders of the changing seasons. Winter into spring is a magical time when little details change each day. Some things you can only see at this time of year.

You might write or draw:

  • What you see
  • What you hear
  • What the weather feels like
  • What stands out to you about the area
  • How has snow, ice or cold changed the area?
  • What are plants and animals doing during this cold time? Do you see any evidence of them?

Here is an example from my time by a pond:

Feel free to add drawings or pictures to your observations!

It’s okay if you can’t identify all the plants or animals you see. Describe them the best you. If you want to, you can look for them in field guides later.

Now that we know more about wetlands, let’s look at the animals who live in them in winter.

Animal adaptations: Tools for Survival!

By Sarah

How do humans adapt to winter? You may think of putting on coats, mittens and hats to stay warm.

Now imagine that you live in a frozen wetland. How could you keep yourself warm while being wet? This might be difficult for us people, but animals have many adaptations to handle it.

What are adaptations? Think of adaptations as tools that animals are born with that help them survive in their environment. Living in the wild is a rough life. You are exposed to wind, storms, and heat. So animals have adaptations to help them live in harsh weather conditions. The wild also has predators and no grocery stores, so animals also have adaptations to help them hide, fight, and get food.

Temperature difference in frozen ponds. Graphic: Emily Walter

How might an animal adapt to a pond freezing? The water is chilly, there’s less food, and ice keeps you from the surface. Yet the layer of ice on top actually helps keep the water below warmer.

  • Fish survive the winter by hanging out near the bottom of the lake, where the warmest water is. They enter a winter rest state, when their heartbeat slows down. They need less food and oxygen.
  • Turtles burrow into the mud at the bottom of the pond, where it’s even warmer. Like fish, their bodies slow down, and they switch to breathing out their butt!
  • Wood frogs leave the pond, and bury themselves in the ground in the woods nearby. They have a special chemical in their body that lets them freeze solid, like a popsicle! They thaw out in sprin and hop off.

Let’s look more closely at how one species in particular is adapted to life in the winter wetland. It’s the species that built the Rutherford Wetland: the beaver.

How Beavers Have Adapted

The American beaver, sitting right up! Photo: Wikipedia

The arrows point at unique features the beaver has to live in wetlands! Such wild wetland areas are vast and you need to be able to swim well throughout the water. How does the beaver do this? How do you make a house on the water? You need to have some good tools to start. All these adaptations the beaver needs to live in a wetland!

The green arrow: two big teeth for chewing wood. The two square teeth at the front of beavers’ mouths are called incisors. This adaption is a tool for cutting! Remember this by thinking…

“I use scissors to cut paper and beavers use incisors to cut trees down!”

Beavers need these incisor teeth to cut down trees. They use these to build lodges, their homes. The beavers need lodges to stay warm during the winter. Lodges also are a safe place to be, because their entrance is underwater. There aren’t many other animals who can swim underwater, then crawl up into a dry lodge.

Beavers also use the incisors to gnaw on the outer layer of sticks. Beavers eat the just the bark of sticks and vegetation in the water. They don’t eat the full-sized trees they bite down. Before winter, they store lots of these sticks in the water. The cold water acts like a refrigerator, keeping their food fresh all winter.

Beaver chew marks eat away at a standing tree. Photo credit: Sarah Haney

The red arrow: feet for swimming. Beavers feet remind me of a scuba diver’s flippers. While a beaver is quite slow on land, they move quickly through the water. Did you know beavers can hold their breath and swim underwater for up to fifteen minutes? That’s pretty impressive!

The blue arrow: a wide tail. A beaver’s tail has many uses! Like their feet, their tail makes them good swimmers. Beavers also use their tails for communicating. If they think a predator is nearby, they will slap their tail against the water. The slap warns each other of danger, and hopefully scares off any predator, before they dive into the water.

Beavers wouldn’t survive winter if it wasn’t for their tails. In the summer, beavers stock up on snacks to build extra fat to keep them warm and well fed in the scarce, winter months. This fat is stored in their tails. When winter rolls around, the fat will trickle out of their tails into the rest of their body. Beaver’s tails are almost like their pantry and coat closet in one, stocking up on food and warmth.

Look at the shape of a beaver’s tail. How do you think that shape help the tail work well? Photo: Tobyotter 

Of course, fur also keeps beavers cozy, even when there’s ice on the pond. Beavers have two layers of fur. The inner layer keeps their body heat in and the cold out, like a parka. The outer layer of fur makes water roll off, like a raincoat. The drier you are, the warmer you are.

Indoor activity: Design like a beaver!

Beaver Lodge covered with snow. Photo: Sarah Haney

Beavers build lodges similarly to how pioneers built log homes: by cutting down the trees around them. Pioneers used axes to cut down a tree. The beaver use their own tool, their large incisor teeth, to cut down the tree. Beaver lodges are also made with grasses, mosses and mud!

Beaver lodges come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the key elements of the beaver lodge include…

  • An entry point (You can see how beavers enter and leave their lodge in this picture )
  • A place to store food, sticks and twigs, for the winter
  • A dry spot to sleep

Get a piece of paper and start drawing! Imagine you are a beaver living in a wetland: what does your lodge look like? Where is the dam? Do you live with a family of beavers? Where do you keep your beaver snacks? What other animals and plants live there?

We’d love to see your drawings in the comments or at the virtual field trip this week!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virginia Opossum: Virtual Field Trip

A Virginia opossum, commonly known as a possum. Photo credit: Paul Hurtado.

With its beady eyes, hand-like paws, and taste for trash, some people think opossums (commonly spelled “possum”) are giant rats. Maybe you’ve seen a possum lurking in your backyard at night and thought something similar. I thought raccoons and possums were the same animal for a while.

But possums aren’t rats or raccoons. They are a special type of mammal called a marsupial. And they are the only marsupial in all of North America! If that isn’t enough to make them special, possums also:

  • eat ticks. Ticks latch onto our skin to suck our blood, and can give us Lyme disease.
  • are highly resistant to rabies.
  • are immune to certain types of snake venom.

Pretty cool for such a common critter, huh? Want to learn more about the Virginia opossum? Here are some options for exploring our backyard buddy.

Attend the virtual field trip, Friday, February 12th at 10:30 am on Zoom.

Experience what it’s like to be a possum mother by doing this activity.

Read about possum in the rest of this post, or skip ahead to a puppet video summary!

Virtual Field Trip, Feb. 12 at 10:30 am

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 investigating Appalachia’s favorite backyard critter.

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.

What’s a marsupial?

A marsupial is a category of mammals that carry their young in a pouch on the mother’s belly. It’s like having a built-in sweatshirt pocket on your tummy, made just for carrying your babies around.

The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial on this continent. Other continents have marsupials that look very different from a possum. Kangaroos, wombats, and koalas are marsupials that live in Australia.

A young kangaroo peeking out of their mother’s pouch. Photo Credit: Tatters

Welcome, baby possums!

A female possum will give birth to up to 25 babies, but not all of them will survive. That’s because the babies aren’t ready to enter the world as possums right after they are born. When a mama possum gives birth, her babies are the size of honeybees! They need to grow bigger to survive.

These tiny babies have to crawl inside their mother’s pouch to one of her thirteen nipples. Twelve of them are arranged in a circle, with the thirteenth in the middle. If a baby possum doesn’t make it to one of the nipples, it won’t get enough food to grow big and strong. When a baby starts suckling on a nipple, the nipple will swell in its mouth. This pins the young possum in place until it grows large enough to let go!

Our friend and educator Sarah rescued some baby possums whose mother had died while they were still in her pouch. She shared this photo. It shows what a young possum looks like before it’s ready to leave the pouch.

A baby possum sleeping. Notice how much paws look like our hands? Photo Credit: Sarah Haney.

Think about how you came into this world. Did someone give birth to you and 20 siblings and hope that half of you survived? Possum mamas spread out care and resources between many offspring, knowing that only a handful will survive. Humans put all of our attention, care, and milk into usually one baby. Sometimes we have twins, or triplets, or even quadruplets! But we take care of smaller numbers of babies, working harder on each one. This makes our reproduction different from possums.

Life as a young possum

Once the baby possums grow big enough to let go of their mother’s nipples, they can crawl out of the pouch. Young possums still need their mother, but they’re ready to see the world. To do so safely, they climb up on their mother’s back and take a ride.

Young possums attached to their mother’s back. Photo Credit: Anne Davis.

Eventually, this litter of possums will get too big to cling to their mother for a free trip across town. When her back gets crowded and the young possums fall off, they will start their own lives as adult possums. It only takes ten months for possums to reach an age where they can have babies. Quick turn around time, huh?

Your turn: Pouch pretending!

If you want to know what it’s like to be North America’s only marsupial, this activity is for you. Only a few steps stand between you and being a possum:

  • Step 1: Put on a hoodie or shirt with a pocket on your stomach. If you don’t have one of these, make sure you have pants on with pockets.
  • Step 2: Find out how much you weighed when you were born. You can ask your grown-ups if they know what you weighed. (If you can’t find our how much you weighed, you can use 7.5 pounds, which is the average weight of babies born.)
  • Step 3: Multiply how much you weighed by 13. You can do this by hand for a math challenge, or use a calculator. A grown-up can also help you with this. Multiplying your weight by 13 will represent how much a mama possum would have to carry if she had babies your size.
  • Step 4: Now you have a number. This is how much weight you have to carry as a mama possum with 13 babies. Find items around the house to carry in your hoodie or pants pocket. How much do they weigh?

Can you carry the weight of 13 babies in your tummy pocket? I doubt it. But it’s fun to pretend we are possums, isn’t it? They must have strong bodies to carry that many little ones around.

Possum preferences

Possums are nocturnal critters, sleeping during the day and moving about at night (the opposite of most humans). They choose secluded, dark places to sleep.

Opossums are scavengers, like turkey vultures, so they’ll eat roadkill and other decomposing animals. They’ll also visit our houses to check out trash cans for treats. Last year, I found three possums in my trash can next to my porch at once!

A possum looking for goodies at night. Photo Credit: Urban Woodswalker.

Possums don’t only eat our trash and dead animals. They will also eat grass, nuts, and fruit, and they hunt insects, mice, snakes, and birds. Some people have reported possums eating their chickens.

When possums are awake, they like to spend most of their time high in the sky in trees. Possums are fantastic tree climbers. Their sharp claws dig into bark. And their tail can wrap around branches to hold them, like an extra arm or leg.

A possum making good use of its gripping tail. Photo Credit: California DFW.

But they also like to spend their time asleep in trees. Possums can nest in hollow parts of a tree. They can also sleep in dens in the ground made by other creatures. As long as it’s dark and safe, they’re home.

Possum defense

Have you ever heard the saying “playing possum?” If you haven’t, it means you’re pretending to be dead! Which is exactly what possums do when they’re really scared. The hope is that whatever is trying to hunt it will lose interest if it thinks the possum is already dead. The possum will flop in its side and stick out its tongue. They’ll stay this way for an hour or so.

In this video, a man and his dog come across a possum pretending to be dead:

Did you hear the man say the possum could get up and hiss at him? Well, it could! Hissing and showing off their sharp teeth is another way possums defend themselves from threats. They’ll hold their mouth open to hiss and snarl at predators. This is called alligator mouth.

Another way possums can deter predators is through drooling. Possums can drip spit and blow bubbles out their nose to appear sick and unappetizing. This past summer, I was asleep in my hammock under a cherry tree and woke up because liquid kept hitting my face. I turned on my headlamp to see a scared possum drooling all over me! The next day, I drew this.

How do you protect yourself when you’re scared? Hopefully you don’t drool on people!

Let’s review!

Watch this possum puppet show for a speedy review of all things opossum!

This was a lot of possum content! But if you’re hungry for more like a possum digging in trash cans for a snack, come to the virtual field trip this Friday, 2/12 at 10:30 AM.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Sarah’s February Book Corner

With all this snowy weather, I love to curl up with a good book! Sarah the librarian has picked out some great books for us about:

  • possums,
  • turkey vultures,
  • and wild plants!

These books pair well with our recent or upcoming virtual field trips. They’re all available at Athens County Public Libraries, or check at your own local library.

Book Recommendations for Young Naturalists:

Children’s non-fiction:

Picture Books:

Field Guides:

You can also check out Sarah’s previous book corner about tracks!

Did you read any of these books? Leave a review or your own recommendations in the comments!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Turkey Vultures: Virtual Field Trip

“Nature’s Clean-up Crew”

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

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT VULTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hello, my name is…

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

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

Today I will simply call them turkey vultures.

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

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

Vultures in Stories

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

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

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

Picture by George Blankenhorn

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

How to identify a turkey vulture

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

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

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

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

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

Habitat

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

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

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

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

Take A Vulture Hike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This excellent sense of smell not only helps them find their food. It also lets them know how long the animal has been dead, and if it’s good to eat.  

Structures and their functions

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

Feet

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

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

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

Beaks

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

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

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

Taking flight

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

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

No description available.
The picture above is of my friend and a dead Turkey Vulture found in Athens County. My friend was impressed by the bird’s large wings!

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

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

Migration

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

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

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

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

Celebrating turkey vultures

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

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

How will you celebrate turkey vultures this week?

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
Young Naturalists Club

What do animals eat in fall?

Scientists study how many acorns fall each year to predict how wildlife will act. Photo: “Acorns (Explored 1/28/16)” by Marcy Leigh is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Fall is the last chance for animals to stock up on food before winter hits. Luckily, plants are eagerly making nuts and fruit before it gets too cold for them too. An animal will travel far and wide to find enough food: it can make the difference for whether it survives.

Believe it or not, you’re surrounded by a buffet when you walk in the woods. In this week’s virtual field trip, we’ll teach you how to recognize those fall foods (including a few that are good for humans).

WAYS TO LEARN ABOUT WILDLIFE FOOD IN FALL:

Join the virtual field trip, Friday, Oct. 9 at 10:30 am.

On your own: Gather wild fall foods to try!

On your own: How much can you do with a nut? Face off with a squirrel.

Wildlife Food Virtual Field Trip: Friday, Oct. 9, 2020

We went on a hike to teach you to recognize the many nuts and fruits in the forest (and how to think like a hungry animal!).Watch the recording here:

If you haven’t registered for our fall field trips yet, go here: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUpcu6qqTsoHNKDfYwskjOqiSjAU_4HxFma. You’ll receive the link to the call in your email.

If you couldn’t make the field trip, or want to get more out of it, try some of the activities below!

Two wild fall foods to gather now

Human beings are animals too. We can’t eat everything a bird or chipmunk can, of course. But there are some surprisingly tasty foods just growing in the forest, waiting for you to try them!

Always double check with an adult before eating anything you gather outside. Autumn olive berries and acorns are safe to eat, but you want to make sure that 1, they were gathered from a safe place and 2, you identified them correctly. To learn more about foraging wild foods, check out this post.

Easier option: Autumn olive berries

This could be you. Photo: “Autumn Olive Harvest” by henna lion is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Autumn olives are an invasive plant in Ohio. They aren’t great for other plants because they steal space from them. But luckily for us, they’re delicious!

Autumn olive grows in abandoned fields that no one has mown for a few years. So look for it in bushy, overgrown areas on the edges of pastures, fields, and woods (like where the woods end just before the parking lot).

The leaves and berries of autumn olive. See the silvery dusting on the berries and leaves? Photo: “Autumn-olive” by NatureServe is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The berries are a dark, dull red with subtle dots. They’re close to the size of a pea. To tell them apart from other berries, look for the silvery, dusty coating. The leaves also look silvery on the bottom side.

The berries can be a little tart and make your mouth feel like it’s dried up! But the riper they are, the sweeter they get. They are the perfect texture to make into jam easily.

Challenge option: Make acorn flour

You may never have eaten an acorn. But the deer and the squirrels are on to something. For thousands of years in North America, people who lived near oak trees ate them almost every day!

This acorn flour sifting tray was made by Amanda Wilson, a member of the Maidu tribe of California. Photo: “Acorn Flour Sifting Tray” from the Brooklyn Museum is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Trees don’t make the same amount each year. One year, all the trees might make a ton of acorns. This is called a mast year. After a mast year, you might see the deer or squirrel population increase. They are able to have more babies because they had so much food!

But for 3-5 years after that, that kind of oak tree might make very few acorns. Animals like deer have to travel farther to find enough food in years with fewer acorns. They are more exposed to predators, and might be weaker. The deer population might get smaller.

A tasty meal for a deer…or a human who knows what to do with them! Photo: “White oak Quercus alba prolific acorns.jpg” by Dcrjsr is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Acorns come from oak trees. There are lots of kinds of oak trees, and some have tastier acorns than others! Wild turkeys, deer, and squirrels prefer to eat white oak and chestnut oak acorns–and those are the kinds I recommend you eat too.

Before eating acorns, you have to soak them in water for a long time (up to a week!). Acorns have a bitter substance in them called tannins. You may have tasted tannins before: they are what makes black tea extra dark and taste bitter if you leave the bag in too long. But acorns have so many tannins that they can give you a stomachache if you eat them raw. Soaking the acorns gets rid of the tannins.

So, if you want to try something new, gather some acorns and start soaking them:

  1. For tastiest results, learn to recognize white oaks, burr oaks, or chestnut oaks, and gather those acorns.
  2. Read these instructions to making acorn flour here, or watch this video:
Learn to make acorn flour in this video, made by “In the Kitchen with Matt.”

The Purpose of all this food: ENERGY!

When you eat food, it is fuel for your body. It’s like having a little engine inside of you. A car burns gasoline so it can move down the road. Your body burns food so you can run, talk, and think!

A squirrel takes energy from acorns by eating them, and turns that energy into jumping, tree climbing, and whatever else it is squirrels like to do. A squirrel gathers around 25 nuts in an hour. But how many nuts does a squirrel need anyway?

How do you compare to a squirrel? How many more acorns would you need to eat than a squirrel to do these things?

ActivityCalories needed for human kidCalories needed for squirrelCalories in an acornHow many acorns does a person need to eat to do this?How many acorns does a squirrel need to eat to do this?
Climb to top of a tree7525
Napping for an hour3415
Running for 10 minutes6525
Hunting for acorns for an hour16045
Hint: Divide the number of calories needed by the number of calories in an acorn. **All of these numbers are rough estimates; don’t use these for health decisions**

Ultimately, all this energy is coming from the sun. It travelled from the sun, to the oak tree’s acorn, to your belly.

For many animals, overeating in the fall is a good thing! The fatter they are, the better they can survive the winter. For example, bears compete to eat as much as they can before hibernating, because they won’t eat at all while they are sleeping. (A fun way to celebrate their success is to vote for the fattest bear of Katmai National Park during Fat Bear Week).

How did you compare to a squirrel? Did you try eating any squirrel food? Tell us about it in the comments!

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Vernal Pools, Part I

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

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

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

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