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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

Virtual Field Trip: Mushrooms

Hunting for mushrooms at Burr Oak State Park last fall. Photo: Rural Action

This week, we invite you to choose your own adventure. How would you like to explore the wild world of mushrooms?

Choices for Exploring Mushrooms:

On your own, outside:
Make a spore print.

On your own, inside: explore mushrooms’ many forms!

Doing the “on your own” activities before the zoom field trip will help you get more out of it. Or, they are a great alternative if you won’t attend the field trip.

Virtual Field Trip on Zoom: Friday, Sept 11 at 10:30am

Go on a virtual mushroom hunt with our naturalists! We’ll show you edible, poisonous, and downright bizarre mushrooms. How do mushrooms help an ecosystem?

Watch the recording of this field trip:

Recording of the virtual field trip about mushrooms, Sept. 11 2020.

To attend future virtual field trips, click here.

On Your Own

If you go outside: Make a spore print

Spores are the part of mushrooms that grow new mushrooms, like seeds do for plants. Spores look like a dust that falls out of mushrooms.

If you leave a mushroom on a piece of paper overnight (don’t move it!), in the morning you will see a pattern. Mushroom lovers use these patterns to identify what kind of mushroom it is.

Mushroom caps on the left, and their spore prints on the right. Photo: Chelynski.
  1. First, search outside for a mushroom! Mushrooms might grow even in a lawn. Try looking in:
  • shady spots
  • on old stumps or dead sticks
  • dying trees
  • dead grass, straw, or leaves

Pluck one carefully. Don’t touch your mouth and wash your hands afterwards. Some mushrooms are poisonous!

2. Next, make your spore print. To learn how, watch the video below. Or, click here to read instructions.

How to make spore prints, from Pepper and Pine’s YouTube channel

3. Take a picture of your print. Or, write a description of its shapes and colors. Share your sport print picture or description in the comments below, or in your teacher’s online classroom.

The artist Madge Evers uses spore print to create art: click here for inspiration.

If you’re inside: Explore the many forms of fungi

If you’re like most people, you picture mushrooms or fungi as something like this:

A classic mushroom shape. Photo: Kathie Hodge, Cornell Fungi

But would you have recognized all of these as fungi as well?

Photo credits, upper left to bottom right: , Brian Gratwicke, Kathie Hodge , Kathie Hodge, Kathie Hodge, Cornell Mushroom Blog

  1. Explore the mushrooms of the Cornell Mushroom Blog. Click on any picture that looks interesting to you! Find a mushroom that you are drawn to. Maybe it is pretty, surprising, weird, a little gross, or something else.
  2. Mushrooms are often just part of a much bigger web of fungus. Sometimes that web is the size of a log–but sometimes it’s the size of the whole forest! Read about it:
    Oregon Humongous Fungus Sets Record As Largest Single Living Organism On Earth
    The Wood Wide Web: How Trees Secretly Talk to and Share with Each Other
  3. Think about some of the different fungi you just investigated, big or small. What are some of the different shapes, sizes, and colors you saw? What kind of places did they grow? Draw some of the different shapes mushrooms might have. Share your work in the comments!
Does your mushroom fit into one of these shapes? Image: North American Mycological Association/Louisie Freedman.
Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

How to Build a Shelter

The first time I slept in a shelter I built myself, I was camping out with many other families. Everyone else had tents. But I was determined to try something new. 

The shelter I slept in that night looked a lot like this.

I found a solid tree to support a stick frame. I covered the sticks with thick, thick layers of leaves. Luckily, the kids helped carry big armfuls of leaves for the roof and the ground. It went much faster with many hands! I only barely fit inside the small lean-to.

As evening fell, the sky grew dark. Gulp…it was going to rain.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Shelters, Animal and Human

What shelters do animals build? What can we learn from them for building our own survival shelters? If you’re a kid who loves building forts or dreams of surviving in the woods, this is for you!

I spent the night in this debris hut I built with kids at a summer camp. It was one of my favorite camp-out experiences ever!

Join us via Zoom this Friday! We’ll tour some animal homes, and go over how to build your own shelters.

Even if you can’t join for the Zoom event, we’ll be sharing more shelter-building activities this week on the blog.

This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education staff.
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Friday, May 15 at 1:30pm
Please register at this link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEqcuqoqjksE9wZMo2PvUgVXRDkk80RzaKM

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

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

Brush up on your survival skills before the virtual field trip

Get started with Nate’s basic survival skills introduction. Tomorrow, Dani will share an fun activity to test some shelter-building materials.

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Fixing Acid Mine Drainage

This week, you learned about pH and how coal mining has acidified local streams. A lot of wildlife cannot live in or around streams with acid mine drainage. Luckily, we can do a lot to help streams recover! What ideas do you have for how to make these creeks healthy again?

In this lesson, we’ll cover:

Lydia shows us a creek that has been affected by Acid Mine Drainage.

If you need a review of what acid mine drainage is, watch these short videos of Pine Run (Perry County, Ohio).

Lydia reviews what AMD is.


The easiest and best way for us to fix AMD is to not let it happen in the first place. We can’t undo the mining that already happened. So how can we stop AMD from happening?

Stopping AMD before it’s made

Do you remember the three things that make AMD?

  • iron pyrite (in the coal)
  • water
  • air.

If we stop these things from mixing, then no AMD will form. This is called Source Control.

The best way to stop AMD from forming? Keep water from touching and mixing with the pyrite.

Sometimes this means covering big piles of leftover coal waste, also known as gob piles, with impermeable soil. Impermeable means no liquid can pass through. The impermeable soil stops water from reaching any iron pyrite in the first place.

Another way we prevent water from mixing with iron pyrite is preventing stream capture. How and why do you think we could capture a stream?

Sometimes, above old mines, the ground collapses. It falls into the empty space where the coal had been removed. This is a sinkhole. If there is a stream above it, the stream flows down through the sinkhole into the old coal mine (Ahhhh! exactly the opposite of what we want to happen!). Now the stream is “captured” by the mine. Eventually, water fills up the mine and spills out into nearby streams with acid mine drainage.

To prevent this, we fill the collapsing sinkhole with impermeable soil. Then we change the stream’s path to go around it. Now the stream water never mixes with old mines, and never makes AMD!

Treating AMD

Sometimes, we just cannot prevent AMD from forming. I think of it as the stream getting sick. We try our hardest to prevent the stream from getting sick (AMD) but sometimes it happens. So we have to give it ‘medicine’ to treat it.

There are two different ways we do this: passive treatment and active treatment. To remember the differences of these two words, I think of my lazy or “passive” kitty taking a nap and then my other crazy “active” kitty chasing his toys around the house!

When we passively treat AMD, we build something that treats the water, then leave it be! Once it is built, it doesn’t need much maintenance or work. One example is a wetland.

Passive Treatment: Wetlands
One of our wetland treatment sites.

Wetlands are amazing ecosystems. As well as helping treat AMD, they provide habitat for native birds and other wildlife. They also hold water during floods. Wetlands can help treat AMD by making water slowwww downnnn.

When the water slows down, oxygen and tiny bacteria have more time to work their magic. The iron forms here instead of downstream, creating this gunky orange wetland! So how does this help our fish? Well, by controlling where our iron forms (orange gunk), we keep it from washing into rest of the stream, where it will affect all the critters living there.

Here is water slowing down in wetland at one of our treatment sites. It leaves all that gunky iron here, instead of in the rest of the creek.

But iron is only half of the problem. Our pH is still too low. This water is still acidic. To fix this, we must add something with a high pH to raise the pH of the water to a healthy level.

A passive way to do this is to add limestone gravel, just like the kind in your driveway! We reroute our stream, making it flow through layers of limestone. Some of the limestone will dissolve just like sugar in water, raising the pH of the water to a healthy, neutral level.

Neither the wetland nor the limestone gravel need maintenance every year. They can be left alone for long periods of time and still work. This is a cheaper and easier solution in the long run, if you have enough space for a wetland.

Active treatment: Lime dosers

Finally, our last resort for treating AMD is called a “doser,” which is a form of active treatment. Active treatment means people have to keep taking care of the doser, or it won’t work.

The silo of a lime doser. This active treatment method needs to be refilled with more powdered lime frequently.

Dosers are tall silos, full of activated, powdered lime (it’s made from limestone, not the fruit!!). This lime has a very high pH (it’s basic). The silo pours little doses of basic lime into the acidic water, raising the pH.

The doser uses gravity to work. Water fills up one side of a two-sided bucket. When the water gets heavy, it tips the bucket to the side. This knocks the bar in the middle and a ‘dose’ of limestone is added to the water.

We have to refill the dosers with more powdered lime often. If the doser runs out of lime, the treatment immediately stops working and the stream returns to being too acidic almost immediately. So these dosers require a lot of attention!

Downstream of these dosers, fish have come back to creeks that had been empty for years.

There’s no one right choice

To sum up, there are a ton of different things that water quality specialists and environmentalists must think about before we can treat AMD. No two Acid Mine Discharge sites are the same. In many places, we use a variety of the techniques from above to fix the streams as best we can. Here is a handy little chart to help you compare:

A summary of the different ways we can treat acid mine drainage.

Activity: “Dose” your own AMD

In Monday’s lesson, we learned how to test the pH of a liquid.

Today, we’ll explore how to change the pH of a liquid. That’s what we do when we treat acid mine drainage. Watch what happens when an ultra-basic material (our lime powder, which has a pH of 14+) meets an acidic material (acid mine drainage):

Lydia shows us the reaction between the lime we use to treat our streams and the AMD in the stream.

Woah! The basic lime and acidic mine drainage react. This reaction releases energy as heat. Did you see steam from the reaction and the cup melting? It is very hot!

This happens when we add a little bit of AMD to a LOT of powdered lime. This causes the reaction to happen very fast, so we can see it. The doser adds only a little lime to a lot of water and AMD. So the reaction happens much more slowly in the stream, and is not so dangerous.

We can create a similar reaction at home mixing two common items: vinegar (acidic, or low pH) and baking soda (basic, or high pH).

Materials needed:

  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Measuring spoons
  • Large bowl
  • Notebook/pencil
  • Your thinking cap!

To create the reaction:

  1. Measure out ½ cup of vinegar into a large bowl.
  2. Add a tablespoon of baking soda to the vinegar. Observe what happens. What is similar or different from my video above?
  3. Imagine your vinegar is a stream we are trying to fix. Could you make the vinegar neutral? How?
  4. Continue to experiment slowly with adding more or less baking soda. If the reaction stops, the pH is probably close to neutral.

Congrats–you just changed the pH!

To be sure whether it worked, you can check the pH of your treated vinegar with the cabbage indicator or pH strips.

Summary

  1. We treat acid mine drainage either by stopping it from forming, or by fixing the pH.
  2. To fix the pH, we can use passive treatments (wetlands) or active treatments (lime dosers).
  3. Try changing pH yourself at home with the baking soda and vinegar experiment. You are doing the same basic thing we do to make our creek liveable for fish!
Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip to the Creek: This Friday

Kylee shows what she found in the creek. We might see some similar creatures on the field trip.

Creeking is one of our favorite outdoor activities! On this zoom field trip we will:

  • Visit two different creeks
  • Learn about fish, insects, and other animals we can find in the creek
  • Learn about microhabitats in the creek
  • Learn how to tell if a creek is healthy or dealing with pollution
  • Visit an acid mine drainage seep, and show how pollution can be helped

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Friday, May 8 at 1:30pm
Please register at this link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEtfumhrjwtGtLpEBNwQ5FnTz5cFx2L8HSC

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You can also follow the facebook event.

Have a creek question or request for the field trip? Leave a comment!

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

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

Brush up on your creek knowledge before the trip

“What’s a Watershed?” activity from last Monday

Our watershed team has been posting great activities about creeks for the last two weeks!

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Uncategorized

Nest Watch: Virtual Field Trip

tree swallow nest in a birdbox

Did you go looking for birds nests after Joe wrote about them last week? We are going to looking for nests live tomorrow!

Join us via Zoom at 1:30pm on Friday, May 1. We’ll check on bird boxes in several wetlands and forests, to see what the birds are up to. Spring is breeding season, and birds are everywhere!

We will send information about what they find to Nest Watch, a research project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
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Friday, May 1 at 1:30pm
Please register at this link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMlduusqzksH9BAad9YoG9gLFrW7XAp_Ini

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You can also follow the facebook event.

Have a bird question or request for the field trip? Leave a comment!

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

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

Categories
Distance Learning

Survival Skills Virtual Field Trip: This Friday!

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

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

Friday, April 24th, 2020 at 1:30pm


Did you miss it? Watch the recording: (6 videos total)

You can also see the Facebook event.

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

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

Stay tuned for some activities you can practice to prepare!

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

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

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

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Vernal Pool Trips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ponder from the field…

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

Categories
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Week 2 and 3: Edible Plants and Amphibians

Blink and you’ll miss them!

April in southeast Ohio brings some special things that are only around for short time: frogs calling and laying eggs, delicious wild plants, mushrooms, and wildflowers. This week and next, we will show you how to find them before they’re gone.

Here’s what to expect:

Monday, April 6: Vernal Pools, Part 1

Wednesday, April 8: Foraging for Ramps

Friday, April 10: Ecosystems in a jar

Downy yellow violet blooming in leaf litter.
Downy Yellow Violet

Monday, April 13: Vernal Pools, Part 2

Wednesday, April 15: Eating Garlic Mustard to Save the Planet

Friday, April 17: TBD

Click on a link or keep scrolling through the blog to start.