Getting Closer to the Birds and Creek Walking
October 25, 2012: We returned to an overcast Fort Washington State Park for our final naturalist workshop for the fall. The clouds and occasional drizzle did not dampen our spirits as we gathered under the chestnut oaks and noticed that many leaves had fallen in the past week.
We learned that the weather has a direct effect on the hawk migration. The volunteer at the Hawk Watch told us that he had not seen a single raptor in the previous four hours. He had watched a flicker fly back and forth from the feeders to an oak, though, as if it were gathering acorns for the winter, so we turned our attention to the feeders.
A central concept of our beginnings of naturalist training has been to practice sitting still in a spot, observing as noiselessly as possible for as long as possible. Across our time together we have achieved this in brief stints. It is simple and challenging at the same time.
As we stood on the Hawk Watch platform, a couple of participants quietly slipped down to the feeder area. A couple more followed, and I walked down to see what was motivating them. The leaders of this spontaneous sit-spot whispered that they wanted to get closer to the birds. They were sitting absolutely still beneath the feeders. We all joined them and sat for at least ten minutes, glued to the back and forth of the chickadees and titmice. Two chipmunks, who had hidden when we arrived, appeared and reappeared from their hiding places to monitor our presence. We noticed that the sparrows flew away when we came closer, but the chickadees and titmice returned and came very close while we crouched beneath them.
The oak leaves we observed carpeting the ground when we arrived called to be gathered and thrown, so we spent a few minutes hurling leaves at each other during the bathroom break before heading to the pine grove and the creek. As they grabbed handfuls of leaves, a few participants noticed and stopped to point out unusual splotches on some leaves, paths left by leaf miners on others.
The group was thrilled to find their fairy house completely intact from last week’s construction and immediately set to work on additions. Along the way, a few of us speculated on some clumps of gray down feathers that we found and admired the designs of bark beetles on some of the barkless branches that we added to the fairy house.
We found no painted turtle basking as we approached the spot at the Wissahickon where we had begun exploring last week. We did find that the sycamores all around us had shed many more enormous leaves. I brought along some large sheets of paper and a drawing board for us to make a group map of one section of the creek and its banks.
The lure of the water was strong, despite the 64 degree air temperature, and most of the naturalist workshop quickly left their shoes on the bank and began mapping the floor of the Wissahickon with their feet. We estimated depths as people navigated the shallow and deeper areas, and we discovered a rock shelf along one edge. One participant had discovered nice red clay above the rock ledge and wondered whether the ledge was made out of clay, too. She prodded at the shelf until a piece came off and determined that it was also clay, but gray.
We took turns adding water depths and some discoveries along the banks to the map. Before we knew it, it was time to go. We will bring the naturalist workshop back to Fort Washington State Park in the spring. We have begun to feel at home by the feeders, in the pine grove, and at the creek. It will be exciting to trace the cycles of new growth and new colors in these familiar places.