Fish Tales & Walking Trails: Preschool Explorers Discover the Herring Run

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

On May 16th, 2023 Harwich Conservation Trust Preschool Explorers gathered for an adventure at the Bell’s Neck Conservation Area’s herring run. Our outdoor classroom included the Herring River, West Reservoir, buffering woodlands, and cranberry bogs.

On this stunning spring day, I first set up a tarp along the water’s edge at the top of the fish ladder with a variety of fish-themed children’s books and a wooden puzzle with fish pieces and a magnetic fishing pole. Our precious group gathered together and we settled in for our stories. Our first book of the morning was Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins, a charming story with sweet rhyming text and vibrant, colorful, and bold illustrations that are quite enticing for the reader.

I next read The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen. This New York Times bestseller invites the reader to swim along with the pout-pout fish as he discovers that being glum and spreading the “dreary wearies” isn’t really his destiny. Bright ocean colors and playful rhymes come together in this fun fish story that’s sure to turn all frowns upside down.

Our discussion focused on some of the qualities that define a fish: they are aquatic vertebrate animals, they have gills, they swim, most have scales, most lay eggs, and they are cold-blooded. It was absolutely adorable to see caregivers’ and preschoolers’ faces as we practiced making puckered-up fish lips.

Time to innovate! I distributed paper fish to each Explorer and with a little creativity, markers, crayons, and flair, each preschooler created a unique fish of their own. I attached a light blue piece of soft fuzzy yarn to our art projects so we could wear it around our necks and magically transform into fish while we “swam” (walked) down the path to continue to discover all the beautiful sights, smells, and sounds surrounding us.

We headed to the fish ladder and were so excited to see loads of river herring fighting their way up the current to the West Reservoir. At the time of our exploration, nearly half a million fish had already traveled through the counter at the top of the fish ladder since the start of this spring’s run.

After wiggling our way across the bridge to the trails, we came upon a hill and pretended we were swimming up a fish ladder as we trekked upward. We admired star flowers in bloom, made note of poison ivy, spotted flowering Canada mayflower, and discovered evidence of coyotes in the form of scat! When the foliage became thicker, we kept our fins close to our fishy bodies, taking care not to stray from the path in order to stay clear of the poison ivy. High bush blueberries stood tall, decorating the trailside with lovely bell-like flowers. Pausing to indulge our sense of smell, we noticed fishy scents as we looked down at the Herring River from our awesome vantage point where we could admire the woods, river, and the reservoir.

The children each wore huge smiles as they giggled their way back down the hill, over the run, and across the bridge to a bench. I read Only One You by Linday Kranz as our Explorers snuggled up together, with a stunning view of the West Reservoir. This book has bright, colorful illustrations and a beautiful message. It follows a young fish who just received some important advice from its parents to spend time in nature, look for beauty everywhere, know when to speak and when to listen, and other sweet morsels of advice like there is “only one you in this great big world… make it a better place.”

On the last stretch of our journey, we came across an otter slide and otter scat, then gazed out over the reservoir and spied a turtle peeking its head out of the water, cormorants drying their wings, and gulls and ospreys flying overhead. This morning’s soundtrack was comprised of song bird calls, the cries of gulls, the high pitched “peep peep peep” of ospreys, and the rushing wind and waters from the fish ladder.

Today was another terrific Tuesday morning! I look forward to seeing you again next week as our adventures continue.

Happy Exploring.


Ms. Andrea