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Naturalist Workshop: Spring Beauties, Forts, and Birds

Naturalist weeks1-6

Spring Beauties, Forts, and Birds

The naturalist workshop has been able to enjoy the arrival of spring on our Talking Stick campus at St. Thomas Whitemarsh and in the woods and fields of Fort Washington State Park. During our first meeting, I gave the participants a list of 19 possible activities. They ranked their favorites, and I created a plan that included activities in the top ten of every member. Here is a sampling of what we have been up to for the past few weeks (with illustration in the slide show):

We played a few favorite games, including Eagle Eye and Firekeeper, and we played a new game, the Pyramid of Life, in which each person chose to be a local plant or animal. We identified which animals were herbivores and which were predators or top predators. The group then needed to make a pyramid, with the plants on the bottom. Interestingly, our group happened to have an abundance of plants, which made for a great pyramid. Then they learned that someone was spraying pesticides on the plants, which would be consumed by the herbivores and passed on to the predators (the concept of biological magnification). Our well-informed group of plants protested that they wanted to be part of an organically managed area, one predator announced two organic gardening alternative methods, and the top predator staged a dramatic death.

We dabbled with watercolor pencils on the grounds of St. Thomas as the spring beauties and violets emerged. We also sketched and painted images of trees, daffodils, and an abundant blue flower, which we learned is Forbes’ Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii).

We created some fairy houses near the labyrinth area at St. Thomas.

On our first trip to Fort Washington, we took a hike in search of spring ephemerals and found that the deer have browsed much of the emerging understory in the woods. Near the picnic tables where we arrived, we found spring beauties, violets, and may apples. Along the edge and in the woods, we found clusters of ramps, which are wild leeks. We also found budding magnolia saplings.

We stitched together and decorated tree journals to document the changes of a chosen tree at Fort Washington State Park. We have made sketches and written observations of trees along the edge of the field by the Hawk Watch Platform. I introduced a dichotomous key and began to talk about features of a tree to observe in order to identify it.

We returned to the pine grove that we had explored in the fall, before Hurricane Sandy, and examined the damage. The group broke into smaller groups and worked on fort construction in the pine grove.

We met Wendy Clymer, the educator/ranger for Fort Washington State Park. She filled us in on the history of how the park got its name and its place in the American Revolution. One participant found a robin’s eggshell, and she pointed out that the parent robin would have dropped the shell below a different tree than the one the nest was in.

We went birding, with help from binoculars borrowed from the great folks at Militia Hill Hawk Watch. I showed the group how to recognize the call of the rufous-sided towhee, and we practiced spotting a bird, explaining to others where the bird is, and then focusing binoculars on the bird. We observed or heard around 17 species, including the highlight of the walk: a baby great horned owl.


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