Ecosystem Explorers Wander the D. Isabel Smith Monomoy River Conservation Lands

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Outreach and Administrative Coordinator Halley Steinmetz

August 15, 2022

Happiness and curiosity were abundant this Monday morning at the D. Isabel Smith Monomoy River Conservation Lands with the arrival of HCT Ecosystem Explorers and their caregivers. Temperatures were in the 70s with low humidity, barely a breeze, and bright blue skies. The 77-acre Preserve welcomed and encouraged us to explore beautiful forests, providing the perfect setting for this morning’s adventure.

We began by listening to Dear Little One by Nina Laden. This lyrical book inspires children to explore the natural world around them and to be grateful for the wild outdoors. Framed as a letter full of love and gratitude from Mother Nature, this book helps readers admire the water, flowers, trees, animals, deserts, mountains, and stars alongside the main character. The jewel-like artwork is visually stunning, and one mother noted she “would like to live among the illustrations.” 

Grandpas, Grandmas, Moms, Dads, and Explorers headed down the well-maintained trail in the company of oak and pine trees, bayberry and blueberry bushes, mosses, lichens, striped wintergreen, and starflowers. The sweet sound of children’s voices and laughter filled the otherwise quiet forest.

We rambled to a bench facing Monomoy River (also known as Muddy Creek) and I read North American Animals: Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds by Chris Bowman. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are migratory and travel each year from southern Canada and the eastern United States to Central America, sometimes flying up to 1000 miles without stopping. This tiny avian species is omnivorous as they add insects and spiders to their diet of nectar. They have a 3-to-4-inch wingspan, which sparked curiosity and wonder as to the length of our own wingspans.

I handed out a tape measure to each child and their caregiver along with a worksheet that listed the wingspans of some local bird species. We stretched our arms out wide and measured the distance from fingertip to fingertip. Most of our Explorers had the same “wingspan” as the American crow, measuring between 33-39 inches. Just after making this fun discovery, we heard the “caw caw caw” of several crows in the distance! Grandmas, Grandpas, Moms, and Dads measured their wingspans too. 

Next, we learned that a ruby-throated hummingbird’s nest is just one inch in diameter, and they often decorate their homes with lichen. Beautiful pictures depicting these hummingbird creations inspired us to make our own. I handed each Explorer a bag containing homemade play dough and we collected some lichen from fallen branches. Squishing the dough in our palms and pinching it with our fingers, we shaped our nests, decorated them just like birds do, and added some dough eggs for a finishing touch.

Our next project was much larger than our playdough creations as we endeavored to build a 6-foot-long osprey nest using branches and sticks. Friends employed excellent teamwork skills to build a beautiful cozy bird home. It was so large that all in attendance (Mommas, Dads, Grandma, Grandpa, all HCT Explorers, Halley, and me — Ms. Andrea) could fit inside together!

We continued along on our wonder wander to admire the beautiful greenish creek below. Overwhelmed by the need to move and run to get our “zoomies” out, our Explorers ran back and forth down the paths between moms and dads, smiling all the while.

As the end of our journey grew near, we gathered our books, worksheets, and playdough nests, leaving just our footprints and the echo of our laughter. We brought home some new learning, an art creation, and morning memories shared in a beautiful and forever wild place.

Thank you for sharing your Monday morning with me, Explorers. I enjoyed every moment of our time together. I am looking forward to seeing you next week at the Muddy Creek Headwaters Preserve and I hope you will be able to join me again this October when our Preschool Explorers program returns on Tuesday mornings.

Happy Exploring,

Ms. Andrea