Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Junior Naturalist Club

Nov 3rd was the second hike of the newly formed Junior Naturalist Club at the Austin Nature and Science Center.  The Junior Naturalist Club is an extension of the Naturalist Workshop and Trade Counter, and is designed to provide a deeper experience for traders who show an above-average interest in nature.  The main activity of our club is a monthly hike during which we learn to use our senses, see what we can find, and share our enthusiasm with like minded people. 

Nov 3rd Track Hike!
Each hike is themed to focus our attention on different aspects of nature; the October hike was on insects.  On Nov 3rd, I led a group of 5 kids and 4 adults on an hour-long hike to learn how to find and recognize tracks.  We walked slowly and carefully in single file with our bodies bent close to the ground to see the faint and sometimes clear paw prints of raccoons.  We followed the raccoon tracks around the pond, and found small trails leading from the woods down to the water.  At the water’s edge, deer tracks told a story of a small herd that drinks from the pond, and a tiny trail leads back to a well-hidden mouse home in thick weeds.  We looked at scratch marks and scat of another raccoon only to discover that the marks belonged to an opossum; the proof was in the set of nearly perfect tracks and tail drag in a clay track trap left in the middle of its trail. We left 6 clay traps out the night before and several raccoons, a mouse, and the opossum left their prints in the soft mud.  The one-hour excursion went by in a flash, but I think the experience will  encourage the kids to wonder what critters visit their own yards at night.    

A bunch of raccoon tracks.  Can you find the tiny mouse track?

Oct 4th Insect Hike!
 A persistent concern I have is that the Trade Counter often loses participants at about 11 years old; kids already have all the polished rocks and sea shells that they want, and they start to feel too old to trade.  Anika is a good example of why I felt the need to provide complementary activities at the Naturalist Workshop.  Anika has been a regular trader for about 5 years, and she has enough points saved up to get almost anything our trade program has to offer including the 3000 point butterfly collections.  She is very knowledgeable about the items that she trades, often writing reports and teaching me.  Anika is in that age range, and I don’t want to lose her or any of the other kids like her who make my job rewarding.  I hope the Junior Naturalist Club can stimulate her interests, and keep her around the nature center until she is old enough to volunteer.

Thank you, Kirsten and Schuyler for being our photographers. 

Opossum tracks and tail drag

Avery with a cool rock

Insects caught by Michael

Deer Track

Rye with a track trap

Looking of tracks