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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Climate Change in Vermont

Climate change is real.  We might not be able to say exactly how much sea level will rise or temperatures will increase.  Nor can we forecast exactly when devastating storms or droughts will occur.  But what we can say with certainty is that our climate is changing, and we can begin to predict some of the trends of a warming planet.

Indeed, climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time and the North Branch Nature Center is happy to host a series of talks by some of Vermont’s leading experts in the subject.  What do we know about climate change?  What can we expect in the future?  What effects of climate change are we experiencing today?  And what can we do to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change such as increased storm intensity and more prolonged droughts in the future?  Our experts will help to shed light on these questions and others on Thursdays this November:

Dr. Alan K. Betts
Thursday, November 1, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Fee: Donations Welcome
Join us for an evening of informative lecture, lively discussion, & bird-friendly coffee! Dr. Alan K. Betts is Vermont’s leading climate scientist and is the founder of Atmospheric Research in Pittsford. He is a frequent speaker on climate change issues around the state and as co-chair of the cross-cutting working group of the Vermont Climate Collaborative. He is a commentator for Vermont Public Radio, and a columnist for the Sunday Environment section of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Roger Hill
Thursday, November 8, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Fee: Donations Welcome
Join us for an evening of informative lecture, lively discussion, & bird-friendly coffee! Meteorologist Roger Hill has over 25 years of experience in forecasting the weather all over the country.  In 1986, Roger moved to Vermont and has since consulted for a variety of clients from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to the Grateful Dead. Roger's informative weather forecasts can be heard daily on WDEV 96.1, Vermont's locally owned radio station. Along with his accurate predictions, Roger is best known for explaining complicated weather phenomena in terms that anyone can understand.

Chip Darmstadt
Thursday, November 15, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Fee: Donations Welcome
Join us for an evening of informative lecture, lively discussion, & bird-friendly coffee! The North Branch Nature Center's Executive Director, Chip Darmstadt, will wrap up the series with an exploration of the impact climate change is having on birds in Vermont. Chip is the founding director of NBNC, has studied birds in Canada, Costa Rica and Venezuela, and has been part of the birding community here in Vermont for 20 years. Come find out what the future may hold for our feathered friends.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who knew safety could be so fun?

The North Branch Nature Center's Forest Preschool spends the majority of its 3 hour session outside.  We hop, scamper and flutter down the trails like our favorite animals, we name the different colors we see in the autumn’s changing leaves and we snack under our favorite White Birch tree.  Our home base is “Deer Camp,” a magical place in a stand of old White Pines on the border of the North Branch Nature Center’s property.  Learning outdoors is fun, adventurous and full of surprises, and safety is always at the forefront of our thoughts.  Our 3-4 year old students need to stay close to us so we can monitor potential hazards and risks and capitalize on spontaneous teachable moments.  We introduced the idea of “Safety Sticks,” as visual reminders to stop along the trail.  These sticks are approximately 3 feet tall – just about preschool eye level – with brightly colored thread wrapped around the top.  At Deer Camp, one of the teachers tied the same brightly colored string on the trees to act as the boundary of the area that students could explore. 

We planned for a brief “Scavenger Hunt” to look for the colored thread and learn the boundaries of Deer Camp.  We expected this to be a quick little walk before breaking into small groups to play, but little did we know that this was the basis for our adventure for the day! 



We took a slow loop around the camp and when we returned to the beginning, there was an emphatic, “Again!” and we took a second lap.  Students asked if they could make their own safety sticks along the perimeter, and we happily agreed.  Each student received a section of colored thread and practiced tying knots as we walked along the perimeter a third time. 


The next session, one week later, Zach and I brought a few pairs of children’s safety scissors and a few skeins of thread in case students were still interested in using string.  Every single child wanted to cut for themselves and so we worked with small groups to cut.  Many students needed help with holding and using scissors, which was an excellent opportunity for practicing fine motor skills and proper care for materials.


Besides the satisfaction of successfully cutting, kids were excited about playing with string in many ways:


What else can we do with string and scissors?  With a little imagination, the options are endless! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Insect Signs of Fall: Part III

To find insects this time of year, you need go no further than the outer wall of any building.  After a quick walk around the North Branch Nature Center’s building this morning, dozens of insects were found attempting to break in.  There were the usual house and cluster flies, two Western Conifer Seed Bugs, a Boxelder Bug, and several March Flies, but the clear winners were ladybugs with almost 20 clinging to the wall.

Ladybugs are not true “bugs” (they are actually beetles) and only about half are actually ladies.  There are many species of ladybugs, too, although all that we found today were the Multicolored Asian Ladybug (Harmonia axyridis).  This species, which we’ll call MAL for short, was introduced to the North American almost 100 years ago as a biological control for aphids.  

Multicolored Asian Ladybug's can vary greatly in
color and pattern, as seen in this mating pair.
 Today, MAL’s are well established across the continent and have become abundant in some areas.  A decline in native species of ladybugs has been documented in tandem with the establishment of the MAL and other exotic ladybugs.  MAL’s have also been well known for their tendency to enter houses and buildings at the onset of winter, so there’s a good chance that you’ll see one this fall, both outside and in!

By Larry Clarfeld

Monday, October 8, 2012

Insect Signs of Fall: Part II

After a hot winter and a mild start to autumn, the temperature is starting to dip and many insects are looking for a warm place to spend the winter.  One such insect is the Western Conifer Seed Bug.

Originally native to the western US (as its name would suggest), this insect has slowly been expanding its range eastward since the 1950’s.  By the early 1990’s, the Western Conifer Seed Bug had reached New York, and today,  it is well established throughout the northeast.  While the cause of this species’ spread is not certain, the interstate highway system may have played a role.

Western Conifer Seed Bugs spend the summer months of coniferous trees where they use their piercing mouth parts to feed on conifer needles and seeds.  As winter approaches, they are often seen on the sides of buildings as they try to find their way inside to spend the winter.  While they can be quite large (up to ¾ inch), they are harmless to humans.  Keep your eye out for the Western Conifer Seed Bug this fall, both outdoors and in!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Insect Signs of Fall: Part I

Signs of fall are all around us:  brilliantly colored leaves of crimson and gold; honking geese flying overhead in “V’s”; and sunsets that fall ever earlier.  But some signs of fall are a bit more subtle.  Insects are getting ready for winter, and their changes in behavior foreshadow the coming winter.  

A Wooly Bear found at NBNC in early October, 2010

In Part I of our “Insect Signs of Fall” series, we look at a very familiar insect: the Wooly Bear.  Wooly Bears are neither bears, nor can we shear them for wool.  They are the caterpillars of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).  The adult moths are aloft during the summer months.  They are drab in color and not a moth that would naturally catch your eye.  The caterpillars, however, are fuzzy with black hairs at both ends, and a brown, hairy center.  

adult Isabella Tiger Moth
photo by Tom Murray
courtesy of bugugide
Wooly Bears feed on a variety of vegetation, including grasses, asters, clovers, birches, maples, and others.  This time of year, they are frequently seen wandering in lawns, roadways, and sidewalks as they search for a location to spend the winter.  In the spring, they will form a cocoon and transform into an adult moth.

The length of their brown stripe can vary by individual, and folklore suggests that the length of the brown band can be an indicator of how harsh the upcoming winter will be.  The Wooly Bear below is an good example of how variable their appearance can be.  This myth has no factual foundation, so don’t count on these caterpillars to tell you the seasonal forecast.

Text and photos by Larry Clarfeld, unless otherwise noted.