Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Volunteer Photographer Gerry Beetham
What a wonderful morning to kick off the first Ecosystem Explorer Adventure of 2023 at the 17-acre Muddy Creek Headwaters Preserve. We timed our outing perfectly on this silver Cape Cod day with temperatures in the high 60’s, dodging the rainstorms that came through before and after our exploration.
Lined up along the edge of the flowering meadow, we began our day simply admiring the beauty of the scene before us. Colorful blooms in all shades of the rainbow decorated the field. We pointed out the red-tipped petals of coreopsis, brilliant bunches of orange from the butterfly weed, and the bright yellow of goldenrod. A variety of green hues were spotted in the oak leaves, pines needles, and grasses. A brilliant bluebird flitted about above the flowers in search of an insect to bring back to its bird box. Delicate light purple flowers swayed in the breeze at our feet, growing right along the edge of the field.
Explorers climbed up onto a nearby bench for a reading of Backyard Bugs: I See Dragonflies by Genevieve Nilsen and Insect World: Dragonflies by Mari Schuh. Using these books as a kickoff point for our first lesson today, we learned the body parts of an insect: head, thorax, abdomen, eyes, mouth, antennae, and six legs. To the tune of “head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” we sang a few rounds substituting the words with an insect’s body parts, and we performed a little dance to go with the song.
Strolling down the flower lined path, we soon arrived at another bench which provided a perfect location for our next book, World of Insects: Dragonflies by Emily K. Green. This time, three Explorers did a fantastic job taking turns reading aloud to the group while the rest of the Explorers listened intently and respectfully.
Next, it was time for an art project. Each Explorer used their imagination to create a dragonfly replica using sticks, leaves, grasses, flowers, crayons, markers, and glue. Afterwards, I handed out dragonfly life cycle worksheets to be filled out as I read Transforming Animals: Turning into a Dragonfly by Tyler Gieseke. We took the book’s lesson one step further through show and tell: each Explorer was handed a magnifying lens and a leaf with a dragonfly nymph exoskeleton attached to it. Everyone found the split in the empty exoskeleton where the adult dragonfly had emerged. Expressions of wonder splashed across the faces of both children and caregivers alike.
We placed our artwork on the bench to dry and continued our journey, magnifying lenses in hand, to discover what wonders could be found in the oak and pine woodlands surrounding the field. Discoveries included flowering spotted wintergreen, mushrooms of red, orange, white, and brown, roly pollies, bright green mosses, lichens, pinecones, poison ivy, sarsaparilla, star flowers, bright white ghost pipe, and more.
We came upon another bench with a stunning view of Muddy Creek. We sat still, staying as quiet possible to listen to the sounds of the forest, marsh, and meadow. Expressions of excitement showed on young Explorers’ faces as we heard the calls of ospreys, cardinals, kingfishers, song sparrows, chickadees, and others. Leaves rustled in the trees and raindrops audibly fell from treetops onto the leaf litter covering the forest floor.
Continuing on we spotted an osprey perched on its tremendous nest built on a snag in the middle of the marsh. We savored the sweet, salty, and earthy smells as we neared the water’s edge.
Wiggling our way down the winding trail we found our way back to the flowering fields and were gifted with the sight of a single dragonfly hovering over the meadow just as we made our way back to where our adventures began. What a way to spend a Monday morning! Thank you, Explorers and caregivers, for sharing the morning with me. I can hardly wait until our next adventure.