Ecosystem Explorers Visit Sand Pond Woodlands

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

July 25, 2022

Sand Pond Woodlands was our destination for this morning’s Ecosystem Exploration. As young adventurers and their moms, grandmothers, nanas, and cousins arrived, the temperatures were in the 80s with overcast skies, high humidity, and winds blowing from the southwest.

While gathering at the trailhead, I shared details about the diverse habitats waiting to be discovered. Gifts from the forest greeted us as soon as we stepped foot on the path in the form of sun-ripened huckleberries and blueberries bursting with flavor. We took time to identify the leaves and fruit of each plant, noting the differences between the two by shape, color, and taste. We chatted about checking in with caregivers before eating anything from the forest and delighted in nibbling on the snacks provided by Mother Nature.

Cruising along the trail, we identified and admired star flowers, striped/spotted wintergreen, mosses, lichens, and even poison ivy. We discussed the birds and mammals that live in the different ecosystems found at the Sand Pond Woodlands and learned about animal signs (footprints/tracks, feathers/fur, feeding signs, homes, and scat).

I read Chippy Chipmunk Babies in the Garden by Kathy M. Miller – a delightful story with spectacular photographs capturing the behaviors of these adorable mammals, offering a rarely-seen glimpse into the family lives of the eastern chipmunk. Chipmunk fact cards I had created to share more about these animals were handed out.

Chipmunks are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plants and animals, including nuts, berries, seeds, grains, small insects, frogs, and bird eggs. They weigh between 1-5 ounces and can grow to be 4-7 inches. There are 24 different species that live across North America. They live in burrows with several different rooms for storing food, sleeping, and an unused tunnel that is used for keeping their feces. Each participant took turns sharing these facts (and more!) with the group.

Our art project of the day was inspired by our newfound knowledge. Each Explorer was handed a chipmunk drawing on a large piece of paper to decorate. Budding artists designed tunnels, burrows, and chipmunk food including acorns and mushrooms. Trees adorned with lichen and strong reaching roots were crafted with great attention to detail. Each of our imaginative friends created a wonderfully unique piece of art to take home.

I laid out a reading blanket for youngsters who finished their art projects before others. There was an array of both picture books and story books all about chipmunks, including How the Chipmunk Got His Stripes by Joseph Bruchac, Curious, Furious Chipmunk by Jane Thayer, North American Animals: Eastern Chipmunks by Chris Bowman, and others! It was so sweet to see Explorers choose a book, sit quietly, and inquisitively turn the pages as other friends continued to make their chipmunk-inspired masterpieces.

Next up was our wonder wander: a searching stroll to admire the beauty of nature and contemplate the intricacies of the forest. Rambling near the edge of the Herring River, otter slides and otter scat containing fish scales and shells from crabs and crayfish were discovered! Continuing along, some young Explorers showed off their excellent ID skills by spotting poison ivy and knowing to stay clear of it. Further examination of the areas along the edge of the path revealed coyote scat – some of us were especially curious and in awe of the teeth and bones in it. Several holes were also found along the trails… perhaps the entrances of chipmunk burrows! We paused to enjoy fragrant wintergreen leaves and gobble up some more blueberries along the trailside.

Time flies when you are having fun and it was hard to believe it was already time to collect our art projects and trek back to where our adventures began.

Thank you, Ecosystem Explorers and families, for joining me this morning. I had such fun admiring, learning, laughing, and discovering with you all. I am so looking forward to next Monday’s adventures.  

Happy exploring,
Ms. Andrea