Friday, January 30, 2015

A Naturalist's Thoughts on Winter Nature Walks

In the northern hemisphere, the season of winter - with its freezing temperatures, muddy trails, and a dearth of wildlife - can be a difficult time to appreciate nature. Unlike the frenetic activity that occurs each spring, winter can seem downright boring by comparison. But if you take the time to experience nature in winter, you will find it a rewarding experience. Here are some tips for your next nature walk:  

Silence your phone. In this age of constant communication, it is hard to let go and experience the moment. Allow yourself some time to simply be in nature, without expecting anything from yourself or your surroundings.

Use your four senses. At first, you may notice human activities like helicopters buzzing overhead or cars idling in the parking lot. But the longer you listen, sounds of nature will capture your fancy: birdsong, leaves crackling under the weight of a squirrel, a light breeze through tree branches. Take a closer look at the downed trees, the dried grasses in the meadow, or the animal tracks in the mud or snow. Touch tree bark and the hulls of seed pods. Inhale deeply and smell the unique scents of nature. But please don't taste anything during a nature walk unless you are certain of what it is!

Savor your visit. Capture your moments of awareness by jotting them down in a nature journal, taking a photograph, or writing a poem or essay about your experiences.

This article was first posted at the Audubon Naturalist Society. Come visit Woodend!

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Naturalist's Thoughts on Animal Tracks in Winter

Winter, in the northern hemisphere, can be a hard time of year to spot mammals. Many are hibernating now or have significantly slowed their activities due to the cold. But fresh snowfall can lead to animal tracks, which is a fun way to study animals in winter. The following animals (and their tracks) are commonly found in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. My thanks to vastateparksstaff for posting - and sharing - these great pictures online via Flickr (cc by 2.0). Note the use of a ruler - it's really helpful when trying to gauge the size of a print.

 White-tailed deer tracks
White-tailed deer tracks sometimes look like little hearts!

 Eastern Gray Squirrel tracks
This squirrel was running so fast that its front feet appear behind its hind feet!

HM Winter Visitors
Raccoon tracks

The text of this entry was first posted at the Audubon Naturalist Society. Come visit Woodend!

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Naturalist's Thoughts on Tree Rings

A tree is a woody plant with a single trunk that branches out at the top. Trees are perennial, meaning that they can live for many years. Tree height varies widely across the planet. Some California redwoods are more than 350 feet high, while the world's shortest tree, Greenland's dwarf willow, grows to be less than two and a half inches.

What causes tree rings?

The outer bark of a tree trunk consists of dead tissue, while the inner parts of the trunk are alive. New yearly trunk growth is added on between the inner old wood and the bark outside. Individual rings form because tree cells grow differently from the beginning to the end of a growing season. Each tree ring consists of two layers. A light-colored layer is formed when the tree grows rapidly in the spring; slower growth in the late summer and early fall causes a second, darker layer to form. Tree rings are only found in temperate climates. Tropical trees grow year-round, so they do not form rings.

When you look at a cross-section of a cut tree trunk, inner rings are the oldest. The rings' shape and width can tell you about the tree's life. Scars in the rings are usually caused by fire; if growth is limited by rainfall, wetter years tend to yield thicker rings. Narrow rings indicate tree stress, perhaps from drought or pests.
Pacific Spirit
Photo credit: Lawrence Murray, via Flickr (cc by 2.0)

This information was first posted at the Audubon Naturalist Society. Come visit Woodend!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Become a Master Naturalist!

You'll never look at downed trees the same way again!  
Recently, I earned my certification as a Maryland Master Naturalist. As part of this program, I took 60 hours of classes and instruction covering the ecology, geology, flora, and fauna of the state of Maryland. In order to keep my certification, I have to volunteer 40 hours a year and take 8 hours of refresher classes yearly. One way that I have been volunteering is to write up a short flyer each month for the Audubon Naturalist Society to post at their trail heads on the Woodend Nature Center sanctuary. I've decided to share these naturalist thoughts here in this blog on select Fridays.

Nearly every state in the US has a Master Naturalist Program. If you like spending time in nature, I encourage you to look into the training. I think it's a great opportunity for those of us who enjoy time outdoors. Here are a few reasons why:

- Training costs are low when compared with earning a similar certificate or degree.

- You meet lots of great eco-minded folks.

- You develop a greater appreciation and understanding of natural spaces around you.

- You'll have something new to add to your resume.

I developed a new appreciation for fungi as a part of my training. I used to always think of fungi as a sort of weird exception to plants. Nope! Fungi are totally different than plants and animals and have completely different life cycles and evolutionary strategies. Thinking about fungi has fueled some of my creative writing. :)