THE WILD SIDE
Guest Column by Maria de Bruyn
As we hunker down in our homes and shelters to deal with the current viral epidemic, practicing social quarantine and distancing is essential. Keeping away physically from those outside our households can protect them as well as ourselves.
In most places, however, social distancing rules still allow us to get outside for walks in the fresh air and nature. For people who haven’t had the pleasure of getting out much on walks, I wanted to share a few ideas on how you might possibly enjoy nature even more.
A key element is learning to practice patience — stop, wait, watch and explore often rather than just marching forward.
Looking down at the ground can be a fruitful exercise, especially in spring. Fresh new blooms are emerging and can delight us with their beauty. The white flowers of bloodroot are complemented by leaves that look somewhat like jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Most nature reserves and parks don’t want people to dig up and pick flowers, but you can take photos of them and then look them up at home to learn about them. Kids can make a game out of collecting fallen leaves; for example, find three with very different shapes and then find out from which trees they came.
If you look closely at flowers, you might glimpse small bugs flitting around the blooms. If you can get a photo and later enlarge it, you might find that you’ve actually seen a beautiful fly, bee or other insect whose shape and colors you couldn’t see with the naked eye. Syrphid flies, for example, are often mistaken for small bees; their bodies have different patterns.
If you want to identify them, post the photo to the site BugGuide.net where entomologists can perhaps tell you what species you saw.
Even if you can’t get outside much, you might see an interesting insect around your house. For example, this male brown-tipped conehead katydid appeared on my porch when I was sweeping it. The BugGuide experts helped me find out what it was.
If you see an Eastern gray squirrel scurrying across the leaves in the forest or a field, stop and watch a bit. The other day I saw one locate a winter stash where it dug up some food it had stored. This article describes their storage process and reveals that they can probably remember where up to 95 percent of their stashes are.
Looking up at the trees, you might be lucky to see a wasp nest. The paper wasps make compartmentalized nests, with a place for each individual egg, while bald-faced hornets make nests that look like paper-covered balloons.
Looking up at the trees when you hear knocking will often reveal a bird busy with excavating a nest hole. On my last walk, I heard rapid rapping and was able to watch a yellow-bellied sapsucker begin drilling a new series of sap holes, which will provide sweet drinking spots for itself and other birds.
If at some point during the coming weeks we are “stuck” inside, we can follow this link to international wildlife days. If we find one to celebrate during our quarantine, we can spend time learning about that animal and drawing or painting it. We can do the same for other environmental days as well, at this link.
Here are some other resources with free online nature activities, for children and adults. Not all the sites require having a yard; even readers living in apartments could get out for a short walk and find something to see, investigate, etc. Hopefully, a side effect of this will be much more social support and advocacy for environmental conservation and expansion of natural areas, parks and reserves, now and in the future. That would be an unexpected positive outcome to the measures we are taking to get through these troubled times. Enjoy!
Webcams offer the chance to watch different birds nesting and taking care of their babies until they fledge:
- Activities on environment and wildlife: https://ypte.org.uk/factsheets/activities-on-environment-and-wildlife/for-nature-detectives. From the United Kingdom, but the activities can be done here, too.
- World Wildlife Fund: https://www.worldwildlife.org/teaching-resources/ Asks for your email to send various guides. Also has some video lessons that are available for viewing.
- National Wildlife Federation: https://www.nwf.org/Home/Trees-for-Wildlife/Activities-and-Guides You download guides as pdfs. Has different ones geared to different age groups.
- Nature activities: https://www.dec.ny.gov/education/72444.html This one requires a printer to get the checklists but if you have access to one, there are some nice ones.
- Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge: http://www.btnwildlife.org/activities/ This one also requires a printer but has some nice ideas.
- Themed outdoor classroom activities: https://www.alabamawildlife.org/themed-outdoor-classroom-activities/ Instructions for parents as pdfs on organizing activities/teaching lessons to children.
- Bird Academy Play Lab: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/learning-games/?utm_source=aab#_ga=2.261244173.1069635355.1584448872-331970787.1584448872 Online games “powered by birds.”
Maria de Bruyn participates in several bird-focused citizen science projects, volunteers at Mason Farm Biological Reserve, and writes a blog focusing on wildlife at https://mybeautifulworldblog.com