Ecosystem Explorers Visit Coy’s Brook Woodlands

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Volunteer Photographer Andrea Petitto

July 18, 2022

Thirty wonderful acres filled with beautiful beech trees, strong oaks and cedars, and twisting pines, plus sweet pepper bush, fragrant bayberry, and lovely woodland wildflowers were so inviting this steamy July morning. The sweeping and stunning views of the marsh and the Herring River felt so welcoming. Our HCT Ecosystem Explorers (a new educational experience designed for ages 3-10 and their caregivers) brought their smiles and curiosity to discover and enjoy the diversity of habitats within HCT’s Coy’s Brook Woodlands, a neck of upland jutting into wide open wetland. 

We started our exploration by identifying plant species, including poison ivy, sassafras, starflowers, striped wintergreen, and black raspberries. Fragrant breezes passed over the marsh and through the woods. Our group noticed salty hues and sweet earthy scents – the youngest explorers even smelled “strawberries”!

Walking down the trail to the marsh, there was a commotion of scuttling fiddler crabs. A female and a male fiddler crab were our subjects of investigation as we used our magnifying lenses to get a better look at their artistic carapace designs. The male had navy blue details, whereas the female had lavender patterns on the shells. We gently held the crabs before returning them to their muddy, intertidal habitat.

Continuing along on our wander of wonder and awe, Explorers and caregivers alike sampled the sun-ripened highbush blueberries that were bursting with flavor. It was such fun to pause on the path and have a snack provided by the forest.

Explorers asked me if it was time to create an art project – it just so happened that we were only one trail bend away from a perfectly placed bench with beautiful marsh views. It was the ideal location to inspire creativity, but first we had to learn about the subjects of today’s art project. HCT Explorers and their Nanas, Grammys, Aunties, Moms, and Dads were invited to get comfortable and cozy to listen to a story. I read North American Animals: Common Box Turtle by Al Albertson and shared some amazing Box Turtle facts from World Book’s Animals of the World: Box Turtles and Other Pond and Marsh Turtles.

After our turtle talk we created our own box turtles out of recycled containers and paper bags. Each Explorer made a unique design on the shell of their box turtle, just as every turtle has their own unique pattern. Lots of time, attention, and detail went into HCT Explorer’s creations. I also made a reading area on a blanket next to our art area for Explorers and their caregivers to settle in and read if they wished while other friends’ artwork was still being created. Books on the blanket included Emma’s Turtle by Eve Bunting, Box Turtle by Lynn Stone, Turtle’s Day by Ron Hirschi, Box Turtle by John Himmelman, Box Turtles by Chirstopher Blomquist, and Mossy by Jan Brett.

Next up on today’s agenda: practicing our field biologist skills by completing a Box Turtle Nest Survey. Explorers noted the date, weather, location, and a list of fellow budding scientists present at the survey on a data sheet. They began their careful search of the surrounding forest floor for a Box Turtle nest with one Dad’s assistance and… success! Our Junior Turtle Field Biologists gingerly unearthed four “turtle eggs” (ping pong balls that I had buried earlier. I had gently disturbed the ground cover to simulate the digging of a turtle when burying their eggs). These young professionals signed the survey sheet and noted the number of eggs discovered! It was very exciting to pretend to be a researcher in the field making discoveries. Soon it was time to gather our gear and art creations and stroll back to the trailhead.

Thank you, Explorers and families, for a fantastic Coy’s Brook Woodlands adventure!

Happy Exploring,
Miss Andrea