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Monday, August 27, 2012

Urban Treefrog

While the vast majority of Vermont is rural, there do exist a few urban centers, and among the most developed, is the city of Winooski.  Yet even in this “concrete jungle,” nature is not far away.  This past weekend, as I sat in my apartment just before dinner, I thought I heard the high-pitch trill of a Gray Treefrog.  When I heard the sound again 10 minutes later, I knew my ears were not deceiving me and that, indeed, a Gray Treefrog must be nearby.  The only thing that puzzled me was, where could the treefrog possibly be?

I took the picture above to show the available treefrog habitat outside my apartment… little more than a few spindly Box Elder trees.  I started scanning the trunks and branches of each tree, and after just a few minutes, I spotted the treefrog clinging to a branch about 12 feet off the ground.  I had found Painted and Snapping Turtles, Green Frogs and Gartersnakes, and variety of birds from here over the years, but to find a treefrog was a real shock!  It just goes to show how nature is everywhere, even in the least likely places.

Can You Spot the Frog?

Can You Spot the Frog Now?

Photos and text by Larry Clarfeld

Friday, August 24, 2012

Afternoon Wanderings

When I was a boy, I would wander the woods unsupervised for hours on end. Rocks and logs were treasure chests with untold fortunes underneath. Creek beds were crisscrossing highways that mazed their way through the woods, and set booby-traps to protect my realm from intruders. These daily wanderings were not restricted to just the summertime - I was out exploring during the school year too. I would step off the bus, run inside and throw off my book bag, change into play clothes and run out the back door and be gone until dinner time. I learned a great deal about the natural world in my time spent out in the woods. Many things were learned through mistakes, like the time that I learned to identify poison ivy after crawling through a large patch of it. The most important thing spending my childhood outdoors taught me was how to just be in nature.

Many adults can look back reminiscently upon childhood ramblings in the great outdoors. Maybe your woods were a small stand of trees in the backyard, or perhaps your creek was a small pond or ditch where you caught frogs and crayfish. In one manner or another, we all have fond memories of playing outside when we were young. Whether we are aware of it or not, those memories have helped to shape us into the people that we are today. A recent survey of environmental leaders uncovered a common thread in their childhood: the majority of them had a great deal of unstructured creative play outdoors. Time spent outside as a child has proven to be a strong indicator of positive environmental ethics as an adult especially if a portion of that time is spent with an adult mentor. With children trading more and more time outside for time spent in front of a screen of some sort (be it television, iPad, iPod, or gaming consoles), one has to wonder where future environmental leaders will come from.

This fall, North Branch Nature Center will offer the North Branch Trekkers after school program designed to pull students in grades 4th through 7th away from the screens and get them outside exploring the natural landscape of Montpelier while practicing outdoor living skills, tracking, and wildlife monitoring. The program will be held on Wednesdays, from September 26ththrough December 19th and will be led by teacher and naturalist Ken Benton. The program will be based on site at the North Branch Nature Center, with frequent hikes into both Hubbard and North Branch River Parks. Please call 229-6206 for more info and to register.

Photo and text by Ken Benton

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Monarchs on the Move

As I gaze outside the office window at the Red Maple tree, patches of vibrant red leaves are beginning to appear and the tree’s shadow is filled with a sprinkling of red, orange, and yellow.  This is how I know that Monarchs will soon be migrating.  The phenology of the migrating monarch is also marked by the goldenrod that fills the fields at NBNC, and the asters that are soon-to-bloom.  In Vermont, the migration begins in late-August.  But it is the shortening day-length that tells the Monarchs it is time to fly south for the winter.

Monarch butterflies are perhaps the most recognizable butterflies to take wing in Vermont, but in recent years, there have been fewer than ever before.  The prolonged drought in the southwest, harsh storms on the Monarchs’ wintering grounds, and overall loss of habitat are all thought to be factors contributing to the Monarchs’ decline.  Fortunately, 2012 has fared better for Monarchs, and numbers are thought to be their highest in more than five years.  

Join NBNC every Wednesday afternoon through the end of September as we catch Monarch butterflies and tag them, in an effort to track their migration route.  If we are lucky, a Monarch we tag here at NBNC will be found in the mountains of central Mexico, thousands of miles away.  Each butterfly we tag, if recovered, will offer an opportunity to learn more about how Monarchs migrate and which paths they take on their journey.  A better understanding of how they migrate will allow us to better conserve these iconic butterflies for future generations.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Forest School

Picture your favorite part of late summer.   Maybe it’s the lazy dips in swimming holes, or nibbling wild blackberries, or listening to the crickets serenade you at twilight.   As the days begin to shorten and summer begins is transition to autumn, we at the Nature Center are gearing up for one of our favorite parts of fall: the beginning of Forest School!  These programs empower children (3.5 to 7 years old) to learn by exploring the natural world around them.  Children will use their five senses while they explore the myriad of habitats on the North Branch Nature Center’s property, care for animals and plants, find insects and tracks, work on art and building projects, perform science experiments and dive into imaginative play.
We are looking forward to embarking on our third year of Forest Preschool.  The Forest Preschool meets every Thursday from 9 am – 12 pm for twelve weeks, spanning from Sept. 20th to Dec. 13th.   We welcome students aged 3.5 to 5 years old.  The morning is play-based, focusing on exploration, developing a keen use of one’s senses, building, creating art projects, and delving into imaginative play. 
The North Branch Nature Center is launching a Forest School pilot program for children between the ages of 5 and 7 years old.  This program meets from 9 am – 2 pm every Thursday from Sept. 11th to June 4th.  This program is an outdoor, place-based program that uses seasonal and emergent curriculum to meet each child’s innate desire to learn about the world around him.  As a community of learners, we strive to create a place for an authentic discovery of one’s self, each other and the natural world.   
Both of these programs are taught by North Branch Nature Center teacher, Lindsey Vandal, and Americorps volunteer, Zach Johnston.  Lindsey brings over 9 years of experience in the outdoor education world and looks forward to sharing her love for the natural world with young enthusiasts.  Zach Johnston is returning for his second year at North Branch and is excited to be a part of both Forest School programs. 
The Forest School and the Forest Preschool programs are the first of their kind in Vermont.   Our mission is to provide enriching learning experiences in nature.  We are guided by the principles of having children spending a large portion of the day outside, using the natural environment as our classroom, engaging students with “hands-on” experiential education, and celebrating and capitalizing on the countless opportunities to sing, dance, imagine, explore and play!  Rooted in the Forest School traditions that started in the 1950s in Scandinavia and Germany, our program also utilizes place-based and play-based elements, emergent curriculum and inquiry-driven learning.
If you are interested, or think that your child would like to participate in the Forest School or Forest Preschool, please check out our website: www.northbranchnaturecenter.org.  You can also email Lindsey at Lindsey@northbranchnaturecenter.org or call her at (802) 229-6206.