Nature Guardians explore the woods at Long Lake Provincial Park

IMG_1527Our second Nature Guardians trip was shaped by the youths’ interest in exploring and becoming better at navigating in the woods and using navigational tools. They also wanted to go to Long Lake Provincial Park, which is a perfect place to practice navigating, as there are few official trails. With this in mind, we brought compasses and copies of topographic maps of the area. We took some time to orient our selves to the map, discussed a bit about how compasses work, how to find north, how the compass direction relates to the map, and how to use landmarks like the road and the lake shore to avoid getting lost.
Then one of our members had brought a map of geocaches, which also showed where the well-worn trails were, so we decided to set out and find some geocaches the old-fashioned map and compass way! Amazingly, we were successful with one geocache! then we hiked, explored and chatted our way to very close to some other geocaches for sure, but we didn’t find them. A GPS would certainly be helpful for that final fine-tuning! We also learned that 2 hours is simply too short to do all that we want to do each time: some learning and work, getting to know each other, play, explore, hike, have snack time and check in on ideas for the next field trip. Fortunately, we have some excellent future group leaders and flexible kids in the group who kept us on time track, and cheerfully cut out some fun things when it was time to get back to the pick-up spot! We all want the parents to trust us to get back on time so we can keep doing this. :) But next time, we’ll do a 3 hour coastal hike! Stay tuned for details there.
Also, we had a great turn out, with 11 young people coming out on a chilly and cloudy Sunday afternoon before a snowstorm! And, welcome to our new volunteer, Heather! She is just completing her masters in Child and Youth Studies at MSVU, and brings a lovely, warm and enthusiastic presence to our group. We are excited to have her with us on coming trips! Thanks so much Heather!

Nature Guardians Winter Tracking Hike

On our first outing as a monthly chapter, the crew of eight Nature Guardians ventured out into the deep snow at Hemlock Ravine in Bedford to have some fun and to see who has been out and about in all this snow. First, we saw many ducks hanging out at the heart shaped pond and learned from one Nature Guardian about how ducks’ feet don’t freeze in the winter- the answer has to do with minimizing blood flow and heat exchange in the feet. To read more about it, visit this page http://askanaturalist.com/why-don%E2%80%99t-ducks%E2%80%99-feet-freeze/ From there, we talked about animals’ strategies to withstand the extreme winter weather- like the piles of snow we’ve had this week! Some animals, like the ducks, stick around in winter, are active all winter, and have special behavioural and physiological adaptations that help them survive. Other animals stick around but hibernate, such as woodchucks, and some just sleep a lot, like black bears. And of course, many other species just opt out of winter by migrating!
So in looking for tracks, we were looking for animals whose winter strategy is to stick around and stay active. We also talked about how if you are really good at tracking, you can read stories in the snow! Most of the stories we saw in the snow were of rambunctious puppies running circles in the snow, small children climbing up logs, making snow angels and eating snow, and of course lots of adults with their snowshoes. But we did see some neat wildlife signs and tracks! The snowshoe hare was the most distinct track we saw and we were able to identify it thanks to modern technology, and follow it across the stream and under the cover of some small hemlock trees. We also saw a big gooey drop of blood with no other signs or tracks around it (an owl or raptor having a snack above is the only possibility we thought of) and perhaps related, an owl wing and claw print.
animal tracks
Along with some hiking and tracking, we enjoyed a good natured snowball fight and climbing up and sliding down steep hills! We also discussed our hopes and plans for future outings! Stay tuned for the next date and location! All kids ages 10-15 welcome!
To read more about animals in winter, check out this great article written by biologist and friend of the Young Naturalists Club Soren Bondrup-Nielsen : http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/animals-in-winter/

Footprints in the snow: Berwick Chapter January Outing

Dog, fox or coyote?  Mouse, vole or shrew?  Who left these tracks, when and where were they going?  These were just some of the many questions heard on Saturday morning (January 21st) when the Berwick YNC Chapter went winter tracking near the Kentville Bird Sanctuary.

Tracks with boy

With almost fifty people and one dog out on the trails, there were many questions to be heard and frequent shouts of excitement when another clear set of tracks was found in the thin layer of snow that dusted the ground.

 

Tracking in snow (or other clearly visible substrate like sand or mud) is magical.  It brings to life the activities of our non-human neighbours, leaving clues as to how they live their lives. The mystery that accompanies many tracks also fuels deeper observation and research and that was no exception for our group; out came the tracking guides and stories about similar tracks seen elsewhere and what people thought they were.

 

There is a deep satisfaction that can be gained just from the questioning and the more people the more diverse the questions, but its also satisfying to receive expert insights to confirm or refute a theory or idea about a particular track.  Fortunately, we had Soren Bondrup-Nielsen, ecologist and conservation biologist along for our tracking journey and he was able to point out certain details the amateurs amongst us can’t (yet) see and helped us look for details that would help us in future. Beyond the recognised expert, there were also some amateur experts in the mix and as with any nature outing I have ever been a part of, the co-learning was rich and satisfying as people shared the tidbits they had picked up in their tracking travels.

 

With such a large crowd, a few splinter groups evolved and those who wanted to warm up their feet after a slow walk and much stopping joined an epic game of Vole and Weasel, a fast and furious tag game in which we imitate the lives of this prey and predator pair in their underground burrows (except we stay above ground).

 

All around it was a fantastic morning with perfect conditions provided by mother nature and our enthusiastic group of participants.  My gratitude to all who came out, including our woodsy neighbours who obviously had had an active night and morning before our arrival.

You can view our photos here.

 

Footsteps in the snow: Photos (Berwick Chapter, Jan 21, 2017)

A selection of images from our winter tracking event on January 21st.  Can you identify some of the tracks we found?

Location, location, location: essential tips for shelter building (Dec 3, 2016)

The Berwick Young Naturalist Club was busy building natural abodes this weekend and we wanted to share our efforts.

Lean-to shelter testerLean-to shelter tester

After our opening circle of intros, gratitude and song we warmed up with a game of Elf Tag before heading into the woods at the Black Rock Community Trails on the North Mountain. The promise of shelter building, or perhaps the mild weather (or both) brought out an enthusiastic crowd on this first Saturday of December.   With 11 kids (including a tiny baby) and 7 adults, we followed the pink trail watching for possible animal shelters along the way to inspire and inform us before we attempted our own.

 

As we gathered under the bare deciduous trees beside the trail we reviewed some principles of wilderness survival and shelter building before exploring the area and deciding on the shelter we want to work on.  We discussed the importance of location, location, location. Location will inform:

1) materials (can you find what you need close by without expending too much energy?);

2) conditions (what’s it like where you plan to build  e.g. weather, prevailing winds, wet or dry underfoot? etc.); and

3) safety (what are the hazards and where do you need to build to stay safe?) All of these will inform where and what you should build.

We explored the area we were in which had may fallen ash trees from Hurricane Arthur a few years ago, and lots of fallen leave along with some older falling or fallen spruces.  We broke into a few groups to pursue three shelter projects. A large group embarked on completing a partially built debris hut started by me some weeks earlier that I had to abandon when it got so soggy In early November and then I got called out of province for a few weeks.  A small team of boys found a spacious tree-root cave and proceeded to make it cozy.  And the third was a father-son duo who built a small lean-to with a soft mossy carpet.

 

We out in a god hour of work and were pretty pleased with our results although no one was volunteering to sleep out overnight.  We imagined how we might market our new green buildings and here is what we can offer:

Three eco-homes, close to trails, Bay of Fundy and a community centre. All three built of all-natural materials meeting tried and tested architectural standards.  Energy bills are exceptionally low.  Sizes vary:   1) spacious 7-person cave with soft floors and decorative ceiling; 2) Airy, child-friendly abode (fits 1 small child) with green shag carpet; and 3) contemporary design, cozy A-frame – sleeps one large adult or a few children and their dog.   Can you match the ‘shelter’ descriptions with the pictures?

 

Thanks for another fun outing Team Berwick and guests from away.  Looking forward to seeing you for our next outing on Dec. 31st.  Watch the events section for details soon.

-Judy

 

YNC Art Card Designs

Backlands adventure

A field trip report by YNC volunteer (Halifax chatper) Mirabai Alexander

 

Wonderfully windy day at the ‘Backlands,’ a Jack Pine Barren behind new residential development near Mica Crescent Rd. Huckleberry leaves blushed a light shade of red, tousled by the 65 km gale. The afternoon was punctuated with periods of light rain, but no complaining young naturalists were deterred, instead distracted by the sweet pieces of the winter green plant we found along the trail. Hiking through small wetland areas we considered how these areas may act as a seed refugia, or protect against fire. As we moved towards Williams Lake, several dwarf spruce, and grey birch dotted the path, while rolling rocky slopes made excellent slides, and widely spaced planks of stream crossings meant for mountain bikers required extra caution for small rubber boots! Forming a circle against the wind we listened to our guest lichen expert (Frances Anderson) show how lichens clustered more densely on rock faces exposed to wind, getting caught in the tiny crevices. Moss expert (Anne Mills) taught how moss succession can change in a slow hot forest fire, and a fast forest fire. Our leader Karen pointed out a rare S2 species, Mountain Sandwort, which is also found along the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario. Only a single black-capped chickadee announced himself on our hike back; though I had my eyes to the sky in hopes for a Common Nighthawk, which had been reported in the area before. Common Nighthawks may breed in the barrens; their nest a mere scrape with two eggs.

Fun Backlands Report

A field trip report by YNC member (Halifax chapter) Maceo Arruda Kyriakidis
I had lots of fun on the Jack Pine barrens of the Herring Cove Backlands on Sunday’s Young Naturalist Club family hike.
 
It was very fun and interesting looking at lichens and mosses close up with the magnifying glass, and learning cool things about lichens, mosses, and Jack pines.  I learned that some lichens like to be walked on because it crunches them up and makes them spread. We also discovered the lichens, when looked at closely with a magnifying glass, looked almost like little cities with lots of secret passageways. While the moss, looked like a big forest.
 
It was interesting how the Jack pine cones grow right from the trunk.  These cones only open in very high temperatures so the Jack pine is one of the first trees to grow after a forest fire. We even found some ashes at the base of many trees.

Chasing Forest Mysteries (Oct 29)