Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of Ms. Andrea and HCT Explorer Caregivers
Ecosystem Explorers and their caregivers gathered at the trailhead as I shared our plans for the day, and we excitedly set off on the trail. Along the first stretch of our hike, we paused to notice, chat about, and identify poison ivy, bayberry and catbrier. Plus, we sampled a sweet treat provided by nature: sun-ripened huckleberries and blueberries that decorated the green foliage of the bushes growing along the path. Explorers were also excited to find pinecones and mushrooms and “pet” the soft carpet-like mosses growing at the bases of trees.
We marveled at the sassafras tree and discovered three distinctly different leaf shapes sprouting from its branches! They can look like mittens, dinosaur footprints, or an oval. Sassafras, in addition to being beautiful, having a fun name, and having cool leaves, also smells like Fruit Loops cereal!
We stumbled upon a meadow where Explorers discovered an insect examining station awaiting their arrival. I had set out a mat with magnifying lenses, insect viewers, and a butterfly/insect net. A selection of books was also laid out, including A Child’s First Library of Learning Insect World by Time Life Books, Butterflies Across Cape Cod by Mark J. Mello and Tor Hansen, and Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies by Blair Nikula, Jackie Sones Donald, and Lillian Stokes. An incredibly beautiful dragonfly landed right on the Insect World book and hovered over our station to assist with our insect learning session. Additional bug sightings included crickets, ants, bees, spiders, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and damselflies. Each Explorer took turns gently sweeping a butterfly net through the grasses to see what else lives in this habitat, and they were delighted to share their findings with the group.
Bearberry (aka kinnikinnick) was discovered growing in the meadow near the edge of the forest. Its red ripe berries were sampled by caregivers and Explorers, but we all decided that we much preferred the sweetness and texture of our earlier snack of blueberries and huckleberries.
The trail led us to a bench with a delightful view of the pond. The fragrant blooms of sweet pepper bushes perfumed the air as the bees pollinating the flowers buzzed about. Sitting on the bench to pause and admire the pond views, we wondered what might live under the surface. Ideas included fish, ducks, frogs, muskrats, otters, and turtles.
Back on the trail we sauntered along in the company of birds and dragonflies. Arriving at another bench with a different and equally spectacular view of the pond, we settled in for a story. I read Tadpole to Frog by Lisa M. Herrignton and A Frog’s Life Cycle by Jamie Rice. Both books have vivid photos and simple, engaging nonfiction text. I also displayed Mass Wildlife’s Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Massachusetts by Peter Mirick with Tom French and Jacob Kubel, Peterson’s First Guides Reptiles and Amphibians by Roger Conant, and several other field guides. Our youngest Explorer thoughtfully and thoroughly examined each page of every resource and field guide I had brought, admiring all of the photos.
Venturing further along the trail, Explorers and caregivers kept me company as I put on hip waders to retrieve two minnow traps I had set out the day before. I filled a bucket with pond water to hold our hopeful catch and set out into the waters of Cornelius Pond. I brought the two traps to my curious awaiting adventurers, but alas, both traps were completely empty!
Each Explorer climbed back up and onto the bench and were handed a bag with a ball of homemade playdough to create something from today’s adventure including dragonflies, tadpoles, and snakes.
Nearing the end of our adventure, we set off towards the trailhead to say goodbye for now. Thank you for the hello and goodbye hugs, for our awesome adventures, and for your wonderful questions and curiosity. I have so enjoyed our summer adventures at these wonderful HCT Preserves.
Preschool Explorers will resume at the end of September on Tuesday mornings from 9-10:30 a.m. We will explore a different Harwich Conservation Trust Preserve each week. I am so looking forward to seeing you again!