Preschool Explorers Discover Eagles, Muskrats, and Frogs in a Bog

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

What a morning to be a Harwich Conservation Trust Preschool Explorer at the beautiful 49-acre Pleasant Bay Woodlands! While excitedly waiting for our Explorers to arrive, our volunteer photographer Gerry and I witnessed a red fox (last week’s animal of focus) scamper down the trail with a gray squirrel in its mouth! Right above the red fox, a Cooper’s hawk came soaring through the woods and landed on a snag! Our Explorers arrived as Gerry and I were admiring the hawk, binoculars focused. We were very excited to share our discovery and start our morning adventures.

HCT Explorers were given a mission today: explore, build, search, discover, and create. Away we went, into the beautiful forest to start our morning mission. Vibrant white pine needles popped against the backdrop of this silvery, gray morning. Awakening our senses, we felt their soft texture and admired how beautifully the water droplets from last night’s rain decorated the tips of each needle. We gently brushed our hands over the bundles and felt the coolness of the raindrops on our fingertips and in our hands.

I invited our Explorers to taste the droplets, which prompted some giggling as they stuck out their tongues. Trees became hydration stations as mamas, Explorers, and I each took turns finding sparkling drops to collect in our mouths. Preschoolers described them as “cool and delicious.” How delightful to witness the joy from the sweet simple action of catching water droplets on a damp silvery morning in an incredibly beautiful white pine forest.

Back on the path of discovery, we admired and discussed other finds along the trail including acorns, pinecones, pebbles, mushrooms, cavity nests, leaves, galls, and branches. Gently, Explorers and I rolled logs over to examine the amphibian habitat underneath and we uncovered four red-backed salamanders! With gentle hands and careful touches, we held this awesome critter to admire its small eyes and tiny toes. We had indeed accomplished our first mission to explore.

Next, we came to a clearing with a sitting log to listen to our first story of the morning: Bald Eagles by Rachel Grack. This is a great book for young readers, loaded with spectacular photographs and interesting facts about the bald eagle. Together we learned about this mighty raptor’s habits and habitats, as well as what’s on their menu. For example, eagle pairs construct their nests together, adding to it every year, and they can build them up to six feet wide. The largest recorded eagle nest weighed about as much as two small cars!

Our HCT Preschool Explorer eaglets decided to get right to work to build an eagle’s nest on the forest floor of the Pleasant Bay Woodlands. My handy measuring tape was stretched out to six feet for reference as branches were collected and placed in a circle until a mighty nest was created. Time to check off build from our fun-filled agenda. What a perfect place to sit while pretending to be eaglets and listening to another story. I shared Scholastic’s fact-filled book, Wild Life Lol! Bald Eagles with our nest residents.

Next up on our mission was to search! We sauntered through the woods admiring all of nature’s creations until coming to the edge of the bog where we found some coyote scat. Taking a seat, we searched for the animal I spotted last evening as I was planning today’s adventures. Per an Explorer’s request, I provided rhyming hints of what I had seen. Our bright and curious kiddos quickly figured out that my animal observation was a muskrat swimming across the bog! To learn more about this semiaquatic rodent, I read North American Animals: Muskrats by Al Albertson. Together we admired the photographs in the book and we were fascinated by muskrat facts.

Walking around the edge of the bog, we discovered what our amphibian friends deposited in the ditches. To our delight, we found loads of egg masses! After gently scooping them up from the chilly waters, we carefully caressed the eggs to feel their gelatinous texture. A Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools by Leo P. Kenney and Matthew R. Burnes helped us identify our findings as we studied the photos of both yellow spotted salamander and wood frog egg masses. Our youngest Explorer took time to carefully peruse each and every page of the field guide.

What a day! After making so many discoveries, we were ready for a snack to refuel and re-energize! Too tired to create, I sent our art project kits home with our Preschoolers so they could design their own eagles with wings by tracing their hands onto brown construction paper. All supplies were bundled in a “to-go” package to add talons, beaks, bird bodies, and tails to their creations.

Sauntering to the trailhead we paused before saying goodbye so I could sing a song I made up about the Pleasant Bay Woodlands in springtime.

“Eagles and Muskrats and Frogs in the Bog

Eagles and Muskrats and Frogs in the Bog

White Pine

Coyote Scat

Deer tracks too

Eagles and Muskrats and Frogs in the Bog.”

So much fun exploring, building, searching, discovering, and creating with our HCT Explorers! I can hardly wait until our next adventure – see you next Tuesday!

Happy Exploring.

Ms. Andrea