Tag Archives: Wildflowers

Scavenger Hunt for Young Naturalists

Eastern bluebird nesting in a tree.  (Courtesy of Jim Baines)
Eastern bluebird nesting in a tree.
(Courtesy of Jim Baines)

The nature center recently had the pleasure of hosting fifth graders from Highland Lakes and second graders from Lago Vista, along with parents and teachers.  Led by nature center members, they  hiked along the lake and trails, hunting for beaver signs, lovely song birds (such as the bluebird above), interesting water birds, unique rock formations, wildflowers and other cool Texas plants.

Lichen vs Moss vs Rock (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Lichen vs Moss vs Rock, with naturalist Mike Parker.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

For the day, they became the  naturalists, complete with filling in their own field guides, exploring the wilds of the Texas hill country.

Young naturalists working on their field guides. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Young naturalists working on their field guides.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

They found different types of cactus, and even looked at bugs that spend their entire lives on cactus and produce an amazing red dye.  They discovered a tree that makes Texas BBQ so delicious, the mesquite tree, and a plant whose berries make wonderful jelly, and whose leaves were used by Indians to make a tea for upset tummies.

A young scientist hard at work! (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
A young scientist hard at work!
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

They even found an usual resident for this time of the year:  a pair of Canadian geese nesting on an island near the lake shore.

Canadian goose on nest.
(Courtesy of Jim Baines)

These young naturalists also spent time at different nature stations.  They learned about beavers and their habitat, including a model of a beaver den, which they could explore.

Good thing this is a model, otherwise he'd be very wet! (Courtesy of Phil Wyde)
Good thing this is a model, otherwise he’d be very wet!
(Courtesy of Phil Wyde)

Did you know that a beaver’s teeth continue to grow their entire life and that the black willow is their favourite tree?  Did you know that the entrance to their home is under water but the living quarters is nice and dry? Want more?  (link)

Learning about how a beaver fur protects them in and out of the water. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Learning about how a beaver fur protects them in and out of the water, with naturalist Sharon Drake.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

At another station, they learned about how animals become masters of camouflage to survive.  Some blend in with their environment such as rabbits whose fur blends in with the shadows in the forest, or walking sticks shaped like the branches and twigs they climb.  Swallowtail caterpillars actually mimic a common green snake to discourage those who may think they’re a tasty morsel.  For more, try this link.

Learning about the importance of camouflage. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Learning about the importance of camouflage, with naturalist Phil Wyde.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

At the third station, bees were the sweet topic.  They discussed the importance of bees in the environment, how they pollinate plants, make honey, and build their hives. Sadly, honey bees colonies are endangered, and are less than half of what they were in the 1940s.  Did you know that more that 85% of plant species require pollinators, and that one of every three bites of food we eat comes from plants that depend on honey bees and other pollinators?  Without bees, how would we feed our families?  While scientists are still trying to figure it all out, there are some simple things each of us can do (link).

Right on!  The importance of the honey bee. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Right on! The importance of the honey bee, with naturalist Billy Hutson.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

Miss Arlene, our friend from the wildlife rehabilitation center, showed the children baby opossums whose mother had been hit by a car.  They were still too young to be released.

Baby opossum sipping milk.
(Courtesy of Phil Wyde)

She also brought young bunnies who were ready to be released back in to the wild, which she did.   She taught the children how a mother rabbit builds its nest, and brought a nest roof made of grasses.  She showed them how to use flour and a sieve to see the tracks of creatures who visit their yard.

Baby rabbit heading home to the wild. (Courtesy of Phil Wyde)
Baby rabbit heading home to the wild.
(Courtesy of Phil Wyde)

As always, the children were excited to learn about these wild creatures and how to be kind and careful when around them.

I know! I know! (Courtesy of Phil Wyde)
I know! I know!
(Courtesy of Phil Wyde)

By the end of the day, the children, parents and teachers were tired but full of all they had seen and learned.  One student commented that he thought it was going to be boring, but he’s really glad he came and wanted to know when he could come again!  All in all, a very good day!

Signs of spring, finally!

Just when you thought this cold weather would hang around forever, the sun came out and temperatures rose to the 60s and 70s.  It was a hopeful sign that spring is on its way.  We saw other signs on a recent walk along the nature center trails.

We found our first anemone of the season.  It was all by itself but what a welcome sight!

February bloom: Anemone
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

Anemones come in a variety of colors ranging from white to pink to purple, and a variety of petal formations.   (They are not related to the sea anemone which is actually a group of meat-eating animals.  However, the sea anemone is named for the anemone flower.)   The name Anemone comes from the Greek word for wind as it was thought that the flower opened in response to the spring wind.   Containing a mild neurotoxin, anemones were used by some early natives to treat wounds.   Blooming from February to May, look for more of these in the coming months and see how many different colors you can find.

Along the trails, in the gravel, in the low grasses, we also spotted a number of these small rosette clusters of leaves that reminded us that soon we would see Texas bluebonnets.  In spite of the recent dry weather, the fall rains gave these beauties a head start.   Stay tuned for more on bluebonnets as they begin to bloom.

Bluebonnet leaves.
Bluebonnet leaves in February.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

The next time you’re out walking, look for signs that a change in seasons is coming.  Are you seeing new birds as they begin their migration north for the summer?  Are you starting to see the buds on the trees start to swell?  Are critters starting to stir from their winter hibernation such as snakes sunning themselves on the rocks?  What other small jewels are in and amongst the rocks and grasses that tell you our Texas wildflowers will be blooming in a month or so?  There is so much to see and learn, just look around… and don’t forget to look up and down.  You don’t want to miss anything!