Preschool Explorers Discover Forest Beach Conservation Area

Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos by Gerry Beetham
Walk sponsored by Harwich Conservation Trust and Chatham Conservation Foundation

Today’s temperatures dipped low, but the curiosity, enthusiasm, and love of the outdoors remained high from HCT’s Preschool Explorers!

I had such great fun discovering the Forest Beach Conservation Area: a new location for this group of explorers. We started our adventure searching for a variety of plants. We found Earth Stars, which are beautiful mushrooms that grow on the ground in open woods. Each looks like a brown and white ball in the center of 4-10 star like rays. The next discovery was bearberry, a ground-cover plant that grows on dry, sandy soil, in full sun. It is a host plant for several butterfly species. We also admired a prickly pear cactus. While most people associate cacti with the Southwest, the eastern prickly pear grows as far North as right here on Cape Cod. Its bright yellow flowers will arrive on the thick flattened pads of the cacti in late spring. 

Looking across the salt marsh, we spotted many Ospreys soaring above, as well as peeking out of their giant nests that sit on top of wooden structures in the marsh. While sauntering the trails, we discovered the tiny, empty shells of the marsh snail, which are as small as a coffee bean. Continuing along the trail, we imagined we were Osprey looking for a place to build our nest. The perfect location was selected at the edge of the woods and the marsh. We built our own nest by collecting sticks, leaves, and common reeds from the marsh and the wrack line. First, we formed a circle in the shape of an O (today’s Cape Cod Alphabet Letter of the Day). Sticks were used to shape the circle and spaces were filled with leaves and reeds. While building the nests, we learned and practiced the high pitch “peep, peep, peep, peep, peep, peep” call of the Osprey.

Next, we climbed right into our giant nest to listen to a story. Today’s book was Ospreys by Mary R. Dunn. This story teaches all about the habitat, life cycle, and behaviors of these giant-nest-building, fish-eating, breathtaking birds of prey. It was great fun being snuggled up in a nest we built ourselves for today’s story! We examined a real Osprey feather and noticed its beautiful patterns of white and brown. 

Feeling rather cozy in our nest, we stayed inside for our art project as well, which involved fastening construction paper to our clipboards and drawing the letter “O” with crayons. Using all the colors available, we filled our papers with unique artistic designs.

Our discoveries continued as we sat on a bench and looked out over the flooded marsh for birds and plants with the barrier beach in the distance. We admired the giant, white, fluffy clouds and called out “blue!” as we gazed up at the sky and discovered the bright blue patches hidden behind the abundant clouds.

Our meandering continued as we searched for the color green. We held green paint sample swatches with clothes pins attached and walked around, looking for a match. We discovered light green lichens and bright, deep green pine needles to attach to our palette. Continuing along the winding trail, calls of “green!” were shouted as we admired moss, grasses, and stems of daffodils growing at the base of a tree.

Our adventure ended with a game of Osprey watching from the top of the hill. I soared, wings wide, running across the sun-kissed field pretending to be an Osprey, while preschoolers and Mom followed behind pretending to be fish swimming in the marsh (the favorite food of the Osprey). When I (the pretend Osprey) turned around, the “fish” would stop and be as still as they could be. Bright smiling, giggling preschoolers scampered about the field, overlooking the marsh and barrier beach, learning and discovering while playing and enjoying a blue-sky morning on Cape Cod.

I am so looking forward to our next exploration.

See you next week,
Ms. Andrea

If you know of families with youngsters aged 2-5 who would like to join Preschool Explorers on Tuesday mornings, they can find details and reserve by clicking here for April adventures.