Tag Archives: wildlife rehabilitation

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
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.

"Opossum
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!

Brownies have an exciting day!

Brownies braved a chilly April morning to visit the nature center to learn about entomology (the study of insects) and basic hiking.  According to Phil Wyde, the nature center’s chief bug-guy, insects account for more than two-thirds of all known organisms and have been present on the earth in some shape or form for more than 400 million years.

Look what they found under this old log! (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Look what they found under this old log!
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

The Brownies were not the least bit squeamish, finding bugs under logs and rocks, in the grasses along the trails, catching them in nets, and studying them thru magnifying glasses.

A magnifying glass comes in handy when studying bugs. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
A magnifying glass comes in handy when studying bugs.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

With the help of the nature center’s Hollis Zender, the girls created their own bugs, a walking stick (see photo below), and learned about how bugs have specialized mouth parts to allow them to pierce, chew, bite, suck, or sponge up their food.

Studying the wings of a butterfly. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Studying the wings of a butterfly.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

For the hiking portion of the day, the girls learned how to be safe while out on the trails.  This included what to pack in your backpack:  plenty of water, first aid supplies, gorp to munch on, a trail map, flashlight, etc.  and to make sure someone knows when and where they are going.

Making your own first aid kit. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Making your own first aid kit.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

While hiking, the girls discovered old bones and talked with Billy Hutson, their guide, about how to determine what kind of animal it might have been, from turtles to armadillos, from deer to cows, from the hollow bones of birds to fish.  All were nicely scrubbed clean thanks to our friendly bugs.

Finding a turtle shell. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Finding a turtle shell.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

To top off the day, Arlene Pearce, our friend from the bird rehabilitation center,  showed baby opossums whose mother had been killed by a car, and a screech owl with a back injury that she had nursed back to health.  Unlike humans, the large eyes of owls have no muscles attached to move them.  Instead, they have an extra vertebrae in their neck so they can move their head to find their prey.  While the baby opossums were too young to release, Arlene let the Brownies help with the release of the screech owl.

Best screech owl
Screech owl ready to find new home.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

 

Getting a closer look. (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
Getting a closer look.
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

 

There she goes! (Courtesy of Paula Richards)
There she goes! The moms are enjoying it too!
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

At the end of the day, everyone was exhausted and all the girls had earned their badges.  Congratulations ladies!

Nature Center welcomes a new resident

prerelease owl
Ready to take flight!
(Courtesy of Paula Richards)

A new member of the nature center family arrived via cardboard box and was released at dusk to fly off into the trees and establish his new home.  The screech owl is one of the smallest owls.  Its call can sound like the whinny of a horse or a deep trill.   Like other owls, they eat primarily birds and small mammals.   They live mostly in wooded areas and nest in tree cavities.    This screech owl has only one working eye.  It had been hit by a car and suffered damage to both his eye and ear on the left side of his head.

Arlene and our new owl. (Courtesy of Billy Huston)
Arlene and our new owl.
(Courtesy of Billy Hutson)

This particular screech owl came to us courtesy of Arlene Pearce and her rehabilitation work with wild birds.  Some have been hit by cars, found abandoned in their nests, attacked by family pets or even electrocuted from outdated electrical wiring.  Most come to the center thanks to concerned citizens such as yourselves.  Since 1999, she has mended countless wings, hand-fed fledglings and even raises mealworms to feed her patients.  Working closely with local Texas Parks and Wildlife rangers, veterinarians and local ranchers, she treats and releases over 100 birds each year.   In 2013, she rehabilitated and released 20 screech owls like ours.

Owl fledglings. (Courtesy of Arlene and Richard Pearce)
Owl fledglings.
(Courtesy of Arlene and Richard Pearce)

Stay tuned as we will be releasing another screech owl when the girl scouts visit next month.  We are looking forward to making Arlene and Richard’s rehabilitation work an on-going part of the nature center activities.