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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday #7

The past week has dished out some wild weather, but that hasn’t stopped flowers from popping up at NBNC!  Let’s see what’s in bloom this week:

While this is not a flower we want to see, invasive honeysuckles are now in bloom along the river.  This invasive plants have a strong foothold at NBNC and many pollinators can be observed visiting its flowers, including several species of bumblebees.

Another invasive species currently flowering at the Nature Center is Carpet Bugle.  Look along the ground for this flower just over the bridge, where it can be most easily found along the trail.

Finally, a native species that is currently in bloom at NBNC is the Golden Alexanders.  Look for these vibrant blossoms along the river.

Coming Attractions:

Hawthorne is almost ready to flower!

Build an Adventure in Your Forest

This spring students at East Montpelier Elementary School launched the beginning of our most popular ECO lesson to date.  These kindergarten and first graders at EMES were really looking to put their big creative energy to use. We presented the students with a wide variety of tools and inclusions. If you had ropes, buckets, carabiners, and a pulley what could you do? These students jumped in with ideas and focus that turned into The ECO Carnival. Ropes were soon being weaved between trees and buckets hung from various heights. By paying a carnival designer an American Beech leaf,  you could choose from a selection of forest grown games.  Your prize for landing a snowball in a moving bucket? Two large White Pine branches decorated with green twine. A trophy of sorts!
In another, much quieter area of the forest, students pounded charcoal and elderberries in The Pencil Store. Other children silently carved red osier and striped maple branches into pencils with a tool of choice, the Lancashire Potato Peeler.  Paper and journals were brought out of backpacks and soon students were writing letters and secret messages with their new handcrafted pencils with elderberry ink. Deliveries were made by messengers throughout the forest.  Who wants to buy a pencil at The Pencil Store?

The Pencil Store is open!

Making charcoal ink
Composing a letter
 Thanks to the children at EMES we have been wrapping our year in area schools by offering the children “workshop time” in the forest during ECO. We can easily align all the learning that was happening with our new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Force and motion being a very popular one!
Although, that’s not what the teachers were noticing first about their students highly focused participation during these workshop times. The option of choice, self discovery, innovation, trial and error, communication and cooperation with peers,…the list goes on.  Many amazing and creative ideas and projects have sprouted up from this time. A life size Bald Eagle nest, obstacle courses made from willow whips, a chairlift for mice, rope swings, kid sized zip lines and you can’t have a workshop without being properly fed. Dandelion Pancakes anyone?

Dandelion Blossoms for Cooking
Ken makes the best pancakes EVER!
Around the fire, we are cooking and relaxing.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Big Year at the World Series of Birding

American Oystercatcher on a nest!

This was a big year for the World Series of Birding and for the North Branch Nature Center.  In this 30th year of the competition, some young-adults celebrated their tenth year of participation while a group of young birders participated for the first time.  This cross-generational composition of NBNC’s two teams was not unique.  Countless others who have participated in the competition for decades were in attendance, many of them who started as youths and are now pursuing careers in ornithology.  Many of those who “grew up” participating in the World Series are now mentoring today’s youth teams.

An impromptu talk on shorebird banding
So what is the World Series of Birding, anyway?  Started by Pete Dunne of the Cape May Bird Observatory, the World Series is a 24-hour competition in which teams fan out across New Jersey in an attempt to find as many species of birds as possible.  The NBNC’s two teams each competed in different “leagues”… the young-adult team, “The Chocolate-headed Cowbirds (with sprinkles),” competed for the Cape May County Cup while the youth team, “The North Branch Noddies,” competed in the youth challenge.  Both teams tallied over 100 species in 24 hours despite some challenging conditions!

A rainy night meant
more frogs than birds!
Every year is different, and this year brought rain.  Lots of rain spread out across the day.  It rained from 12:45 a.m. – 3:30 a.m., thwarting most of the adult team’s nocturnal birding efforts.  They could have done well to sleep in, as the youth team did, and start their birding day at 3:30 a.m.!  But just in time for the dawn chorus, the rain abated and the birds started singing.  The day continued in this fashion until dusk, with pauses in between showers that were just long enough to dry off before getting soaked again.

A break in the clouds for sunset
Against all odds, the total number of species seen was only slightly below our average, with 113 species seen by the youth team and 139 by the adult team.  Highlights included King Rails calling at our campsite (you could hear them from your sleeping bag!), Parasitic Jaegers flying around just off the coast, 22 species of warblers, and a few lucky team members who heard Black Rail (one of the most elusive and hard-to-find birds) singing from a salt marsh.  

Every year is memorable, and this year was no exception.  As our young-adult birders continue fostering their passion and sharing it with a new cohort of young birders, the long-standing tradition of the World Series continues and has a very promising future with a new generation of birders who will treasure our feathered friends and do everything they can to protect them.

Our two teams (including coaches & drivers)
The North Branch Noddies (left) and the Chocolate-headed Cowbirds with sprinkles (right)

Click to see our full checklist from the trip.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday #6

On a special edition of Wildflower Wednesday, we'll explore the wildflowers of a bog!  Bogs are a type of wetland that are high in acidity and low in nutrients.  Despite these conditions, bogs in Vermont are booming with color as the various heaths, shrubs, and orchids begin to flower.

Rhodora has a striking flower, and a single bush can be full of these vibrant blossoms. 

Bog Laurel is another bright, pink flower of bogs.  The similar-looking Sheep Laurel can be distinguished by having its cluster of flowers along the stem rather than at its tip. 

Bog Rosemary's bell-shaped flowers hang low and can easily go overlooked.  Unlike the culinary herb, Bog Rosemary is known to cause health problems when ingested.

Black Chokeberry can be a common or even abundant plant in bogs, and its flowers are pollinated primarily by small bees.

Perhaps the most coveted flowers of the bog ecosystem are the orchids.  While many might associate orchids with the tropics, over thirty species can be found in bogs in the northeast.  Many are rare and all are beautiful, with elaborately ornamental petals that are specially designed to attract their insect pollinators. 

In "Bog's of the Northeast", Charles Johnson describes the pollination strategy of the Pink Lady's Slipper (right) like this:

"A bee - the usual pollinator - enters through a slit in the top of the pouch, perhaps associating the fragrance with nectar which the hairs do not have.  Once it finds itself deceived, it turns to leave, but the only visible exit is not by the entry slit but at the top.  Departing, it must crawl past the column.  In doing so it rubs against the pollinium, which sticks to the bee.  After the bee has been deceived by a second flower and is leaving it, the pollinium strikes the stigma, where it becomes stuck even more firmly by a special stigmatic glue, thus completing the bee's role in the cross-pollination."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Forest School farm field trip

We were lucky enough to visit a Forest Schooler's family's farm today!  Located just up the road from the NBNC, we spent the morning exploring forests, ponds and streams, helping with farm chores and enjoying the humid spring weather (thankfully the thunderstorms held off!)
Here are some happy explorers!
We found some porquipine quills outside a den.  Did you know porqupines poop on their front stoops?

Who knew there was a cave that could fit the whole Forest School, and even some siblings?!
After exploring the forest, we helped with farm chores.  First we scrubbed water buckets for the ducks...
Then we collected chicken and duck eggs!

Afterwards, we played with the baby goats.

And had a peaceful time observing ducks.

Can you find the toad eggs? 
Here's a boat, made with woven ferns.

What a day it was!  So much fun learning happens at a farm.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday #5

Another week, another wildflower update!

Foamflower (pictured on the right) is in peak blossom along the river at NBNC.  You'll need to look carefully for this plant growing under honeysuckle and other vegetation, but its delicate, white blossoms are a sight worth seeing!

Across the river from NBNC, another white flower is in bloom: Wild Strawberry.  Look for this common wildflower along trails at NBNC and beyond:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Poems by the river

Poems are big these days.  Montpelier's annual Poem City just wrapped up its amazing score of events, readings and poems in almost every storefront.  Recently, Vermont Public Radio highlighted poetry's ability to help kids learn to read.  (Click here for the full article.)  Poems have an ability to capture simple, sweet moments and complicated emotion in touching ways, and educators are tapping into this writing form with their students. 

We at Forest School are doing just that.  During the past two weeks of near-summer temps and sunshine, we Forest Schoolers have been taken refuge under a shady bridge on the North Branch of the Winooski River (our Nature Center's namesake!).  In between bouts of searching for shimmering rocks and sneaking up on crayfish and wood frogs, we wrote some poems ourselves!  Here are a few of our creations:

River Haiku, by SP
Flowing and growing
Is nice to put your feet in
Ducks love it so much

It's Low, by OS
And on the other side it's high
It's really slow
And its a bit warmer than last time
The sun hits it and it sparkles
It wooshes across to the other side
And the other side is really high
It's sandy and rocky
Can you guess who I am?
The river!

The River, by SP, OS, and LV
Flowing, gurgling and pretty designs
Cool and refreshing
Wooshing and rushing
Home for many creatures
Rippling and rocky, always flowing
It's big and long
It almost never ends
You can't swim in it because it's too cold
Music to my ears
My ducks would love to swim in it
When you step in the sand over and over,
you have to go in the water over and over

(Apologies for the lack of pictures - they'll be coming soon!!)

Wildflower Wednesday #4

Buds are bursting around the Nature Center this week, and so are wildflowers.  Despite the droughtiness, a new crop of wildflowers has emerged over the last seven days, including some of these gems:

Blue Cohosh (photo on right) is an uncommon plant in shady areas of the property and this spring ephemeral can now be found in flower at NBNC.  While the plant bears leaves for just a short period each spring, they can live to be over 20 years old.

If you aren’t looking carefully, you may overlook the Sessile-leaved Bellwort (also called Wild Oats) growing just over the bridge from NBNC.  It grows low to the ground, and its flowers can blend into the leaves (photo on left).

Don't forget...
Mother's Day Wildflower Walk
Sunday, May 12, 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.
Fee: $10 adults, free for kids and moms
(more info at programs page)

Coming Attractions:

A very common forest plant around Montpelier, the Canada Mayflower is getting ready to bloom.  It grows along the ground with one or two leaves, and soon will be crowned in small, white flowers.  Watch for this wildflower in the coming weeks.

Note:  Today’s “Wildflower Wednesday” photos were actually taken yesterday.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wildflower Wednesday #3

Despite the relatively dry weather, most of last week's wildflowers are still open and many new flowers are in bloom in and around NBNC!

Dutchman's Breeches (right) are abundant along the river and their unique shape and intricately laced foliage make it a very attractive spring ephemeral.  Insects with long tongues, such as bumblebees, are best suited to extract nectar from and pollinate these plants.

Red Trillium is also in flower.  The fowl odor of these blossoms, combined with the flesh-red petals, mimic a dead animal and are designed to attract flies, which in turn pollinate the flowers.

Another flesh-red flower in bloom along the river is Wild Ginger (below).  This plant's flowers are small, bowl-shaped blossoms that lie flat on the ground.

It is theorized that this flower location is intended to attract flies just as they are emerging from the ground in early spring.  Those flies, which will immediately search for a dead animal on which to lay their eggs, may find these peculiar flowers instead!

And finally, on the steep hillside across the river from NBNC, the Trailing Arbutus is just beginning to flower!

Coming Attractions

Many plants are just waiting for the next rain to fuel their growth.  One common flower that will soon be seen along the trails at NBNC is Wild Strawberry.  Even without flowers, the dew on their leaves can be stunningly beautiful.