Tuesday, September 19, 2017

30-Minute Nature Fix (Mill Pond Park - 18 SEP 2017)

Going outside is good for you.  Studies show that even as little as 30 minutes of outdoor activity a week has been proven to have health benefits such as reducing stress and lowering the risk of heart disease.  During the school year, I spend my days teaching kids about science and nature.  Unfortunately, out of necessity, most of this teaching takes place in the classroom.  My job teaching about nature means that I have less time to enjoy nature.  (This is what is known as a paradox: a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.)

I try to find time every day to get out and enjoy nature.  Sometimes this means spending time in the garden watching the bees feeding on nectar.  Yesterday I was able to stop at Mill Pond Park after giving a presentation to the local garden club.  I only had 30 minutes.  How much can you see in 30 minutes?

Quite a bit, if you are inclined to look!

Mill Pond Park - my path is highlighted in red

Painted Turtles taking advantage of the late summer sun to bask.

Reeds growing in the remnants of the old mill pond.

Swamp Milkweed seeds are ripe and ready to fly away.

So are the seeds of cattails!

White Water Lily leaves are changing color as they use up their chlorophyll.

Wood Nettle - llok close and you can see the needle-like hairs that give the plant its sting.

The fluffy seedheads of Virgin's Bower cause the plant to also be known as also known as Old Man's Beard.

This Virgin's Bower is not quite as far along as the previous photo.

A few Spotted Joe-pye Weed flowers are still in bloom.

Most Goldenrod species are in full bloom, attracting pollinators like this wasp.

Purple Loosestrife is an invasive species, but pollinators love it.
Sun shining through White Oak leaves.

This patch of Common Goldenrod was attracting the attention of dozens of wasps and Locust Borer beetles.

That's it.  My walk through the park is over.  Not bad for 30 minutes!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Late summer pollinator bonanza

With the first day of fall occurring this Friday (22 SEP), insects that feed on pollen and nectar have limited food sources available.  Those plants that are still in bloom are covered with bees, wasps, flies, beetles, moths, ants, and more. 

Here is a short video of some of the Showy Goldenrod growing in our yard.   This is just one plant, every goldenrod in our garden was seeing this level of pollinator activity.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tree ID

One of the first lessons that I teach third grade students is how to classify leaves.  They learn to differentiate between needle-leaf and broadleaf species; then they learn how to tell the difference between simple leaves and compound leaves.

If you are scratching your head right now.  It's easy.  A needle-leaf tree has leaves shaped like...wait for it... a needle!

In contrast, a broadleaf tree is any tree that is not a needle-leaf.  Instead a broadleaf tree has broad (or wide) leaves.

Broadleaf trees can be further divided into simple leaves and compound leaves 

Simple leaves are those that have one leaf on one stem.  The shape and size of the leaf do not matter; if the leaf has only one part it is a simple leaf.  That leaf can have smooth edges, serrated (toothed) edges, or edges that are divided into lobes.  See, it's simple!

In contrast, compound leaves are not simple.  Instead of having one leaf on one stem, compound leaves have one stem with multiple leaflets.  These small leaflets are each distinct from one another - meaning that they are not connected to each other, but only to the stem that they share.

To make this leaf classification activity more memorable for students, I have collected dozens of real leaves.  These leaves have been pressed, allowed to dry and them laminated on a sheet of 8.5" x 11" cardstock.  Unfortunately, due to class sizes, I often need as many as ten different sets of leaves for student groups to work with.  This means that sometimes I do not have enough real leaves to go around.  So to fill out my leaf sets, I pick one real leaf of each species and create a color scan. 

Here are my scans of the leaves of forty different species that can be found here in Mid-Michigan.  Please feel free to save and print these images as needed.