Coyotes and Cottontails: Ecosystem Explorers Explore Sand Pond Woodlands

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of Ms. Andrea and HCT Explorer Caregivers

After quick greetings on this beautiful summer morning at Sand Pond Woodlands, I shared today’s plan and we set out on the trail. Just a few steps into the woods, we discovered one of nature’s snacks. Explorers and families enjoyed foraging for sun-ripened huckleberries and blueberries growing in the bushes alongside the trail. Such fun to pick these sweet little fruits bursting with flavor!

The winding narrow path we soon found ourselves on was surrounded with towering sweet pepper bushes in full bloom, perfuming the air with a delightful fragrance. We each took several deep breaths through our noses to soak up the sweet scent. Busy bees buzzed about, pollinating the lovely white blossoms. 

Gathering on a blanket that I laid out in the shade created by tall pitch pines, I read Whose Track is That? by Stan Tekiela. Tekiela’s naturalist expertise is woven into his book to help the reader become more familiar with a variety of North American critters and their tracks. Backyard Animals: Rabbits by Genevieve Nilsen, North American Animals: Coyotes by Chris Bowman, and My First Animal Library Coyotes by Cari Meister comprised our book collection this morning. Each story contains awesome photographs and interesting animal facts.

Next, each student and caregiver examined real track casts from several different North American mammals including red fox, mink, coyote, otter, fisher, beaver, rabbit, skunk, opossum, deer, and squirrel. After holding the track casts, playing a “whose track is that” game, and learning facts about both the cottontail rabbit and the coyote, we felt inspired to create.

I distributed a wood cutout in the shape of an animal paw to each Explorer. Markers, crayons, yarn, and imaginations transformed the cutouts into colorful track ncklaces. Explorers then had a choice to create a cottontail rabbit or coyote tail using yarn, cotton balls, markers, crayons, and sturdy paper (one Explorer opted to make a cheetah tail instead – their favorite animal). Once Explorers put on their tails they began to hop, run, and chase each other around pretending to be the animal whose tail they were wearing.

Scampering down the trails, we discovered otter scat and otter slides near the Herring River. Pausing, we practiced identifying poison ivy, then admired the mosses and lichens also growing nearby. Exploring the trails, we discovered mushrooms, admired birds, climbed trees, scampered up the hills, and had tremendous fun. 

Today, we celebrated one Explorer’s graduation – he has come to nearly every session of Preschool Explorers and Ecosystem Explorers since the inception of the program, and will be heading off to kindergarten in September. I presented him with a Preschool Explorers Diploma and a Harwich Conservation Trust baseball cap. I have admired his curiosity, keen sense of observation, his gentleness with his two younger sisters, and his incredible memory of local flora and fauna facts. I will miss his sweet stories, conversations shared while sauntering the trails, and his wonderful company. I wish you the very best in Kindergarten and beyond and I will miss you so very much Nathaniel.

I certainly adore our Explorers and so enjoy these special moments shared with caregivers at all the different HCT preserves.

Happy Exploring!


Ms. Andrea