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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Caterpillars of NBNC (part 4)

Fall may officially be here, but that doesn't mean it's too late to search for insects!  A group of 2nd graders from Barre Town had spectacular success in a quest for bugs at NBNC this past Tuesday, turning up around ten types of caterpillars (along with a host of other amazing insects).  Here were some of the highlights:

We found tons of fuzzy Wooly Bear caterpillars during the morning's foray, but only one Impressed Dagger Moth!

It has been over a year since we've found the Henry's Marsh Moth caterpillar at NBNC, so it was a welcomed sight on Tuesday!  It's amazing what you can find with lots of eyes searching!

The Brown-hooded Owlet was also featured in part 3 of NBNC's caterpillars, but is too beautiful not to mention again!  It is no wonder that this caterpillar is on the cover of the field guide "Caterpillars of Eastern North America."  It was a sure favorite!

The Black Swallowtail is a common species at NBNC, feeding on members of the carrot family.  It was featured in our very first caterpillar post, but we decided to feature it again because of this individual's unusual coloration.  Check out Caterpillars of NBNC part 1 to see what they usually look like here.

The Black Arches caterpillar may have been the day's rarest find.  Some consider the species to be uncommon and this is the first time we've found it at NBNC!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Snapping Turtle Hatchlings

The exposed Snapping Turtle nest.

Unexpected discoveries are to be expected when spending time in nature.  You go out looking for one thing and find another.  When I was checking a crayfish trap (which turned out to be empty) just downstream from NBNC last week, I was thrilled to discover a nest of Snapping Turtles in the process of being born.

I first noticed some very fresh looking egg shells at the base of a large dirt pile.  I could tell they were fresh because the leathery shells had not yet curled up as they do when they begin to dry out.  At the top of the dirt pile was a cave-like opening about the size of a slice of bread, inside which eggs and baby turtles were piled and partially buried.  Some had already hatched, others were hatching, and some were still sealed in the ping pong ball sized eggs.  

One of the Snapping Turtles just beginning to emerge.
Hatchling Snapping Turtles are extremely vulnerable and can become a bite-sized snack for a slew of creatures such as raccoons, otters, herons, kingfishers, crows, bullfrogs, bass, snakes, and even other turtles.  Under natural conditions, few nestlings will survive to adulthood, but these conditions were far from natural.  The nest was completely exposed, elevated above the ground on top of the mound of soil, open and exposed to the baseball diamond.  Crows frequent this area, searching for scraps left by people, and would gobble up baby turtles in an instant.  So I decided to excavate the nest and watch over the turtles until they had all hatched.
A hatchling almost out of its shell.
Over the next few days, the baby turtles emerged from their eggs.  They pried through the leathery shells using their egg tooth (the sharp, white tip of their beak), which will disappear as they grow.  Even with my help, most of these turtles will likely become prey for other creatures.  Very few hatchlings make it to adulthood, but those that do have few natural predators and can live for decades.  I wished them luck as I released them into the beaver pond near NBNC.  Hopefully in ten years I will see one of them as an adult, enjoying life along the North Branch of the Winooski River. 

Ready for release at the beaver pond.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Building our play-spaces

 The Forest Preschoolers are active, imaginative, and LOVE to build.  They love to create their worlds, and will craft pretty much anything they can get their hands on into elaborate scenes.  Much of our mornings focus around building in some form, and pretty much everyone participates. 
Laying out our obstacle course.
Yay for teamwork! Moving a board for a fort's floor.

A salvaged slide makes for the beginnings of a forest playground.

Working on a home-made swing.
Making dock-masks.

Giving the swing a test-run!

Flags for our tipi

Righting our own little tipi.

Building models with kitchen-fresh play-do.
What fun these little ones have while making their world the way they want to see it!

Friday, September 6, 2013

First week of Forest Preschool!

I noticed two major signs of fall this week:  the temps were crisp and cool in the morning, and eager 3, 4, and 5 year olds started their first week of Forest Preschool!  Being outside the whole time, the children used their imaginations and took advantage of the forest to have a grand old time.

Our days always start with "Loose Parts Play."  As Forest Preschool teachers, we embrace the adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure," and gather old kitchen utensils, sticks, rocks, old pallets, pretty much anything to see how the children will engineer them into new, creative uses and forms. 

Our sound wall.
Sorting, building and categorizing

Once we're out at Deer Camp, we eat snack and listen to a story.  On Thursday, we heard about the Green Man, who liked to leave mysterious pictures in the forest.  Often, these stories will influence our activity for the day. 

Snack and story

Collecting and counting apples for Green Man

Making our own Green Man
Taking a break and playing in the mud

We also looked for deer beds and, of course, had to make our own and sample them:

In the fields behind Deer Camp
Pine needle deer bed

Look!  I found a baby deer!
 A lot of fun can happen in the scope of the three hour morning.  We look forward to many more weeks of adventuring with these energetic explorers!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How to Identify a Monarch Butterfly

It's Monarch season in Vermont!  I've spent the past several Wednesday afternoons walking with groups of eager kids and adults, nets in hand, through the fields at NBNC as part of our Monarch tagging programs.  Occasionally, I have heard an excited shout, "Look! A Monarch!"  As of yet, they've all been false alarms.  Our butterfly hunters have been tricked by the Viceroy.

click on the picture for a larger view

Monarchs are one of many orange-and-black butterflies that float across fields in Vermont.  The fritillaries are a group of orange butterflies that mostly have black spots (rather than stripes).  The crescents and skippers can be orange, but are significantly smaller than Monarchs at roughly 1/4 the size, or even smaller.  Several others can look similar, but it is the Viceroy that causes the greatest source of confusion.

The Viceroy is smaller than the Monarch.  This characteristic is most obvious when looking at a butterfly up close.  But be careful when using size as a reference!  The largest Viceroys can top out at 81 mm and the smallest Monarchs can be just 91 mm... a difference that is not easily discernible from a distance.

The most useful tool for distinguishing these species is a black line on the hind (bottom) wings.  This line, running roughly parallel to the wing margin, crosses through all the other vertical veins on the hind wing.  Whether viewed from above or below, this line is always visible.  When you learn this field mark, you will soon be able to identify Viceroys even from a distance.  

Now that you are en expert in Monarch identification, keep your eyes peeled for this magnificent butterfly!  The month of September is the peak of the Monarch's migration, and with their numbers down this year, keeping track of them is more important than ever.  Have you seen Monarchs or Viceroys lately?  Let us know!