Preschool Explorers Discover the A. Janet DeFulvio Wildlife Sanctuary Boardwalk

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

Harwich Conservation Trust’s A. Janet DeFulvio Wildlife Sanctuary Boardwalk was a beautiful site to share a November morning with our Preschool Explorers. We met under bright blue skies with temperatures in the low 50s and winds blowing from the North, creating a true fall feeling together with the beautiful colors of autumn. The sweeping views of the golden salt marsh and vibrant leaves of the oaks, maples, and tupelos made for a perfect backdrop for our adventure.

Today’s topic was birds. Our adorable preschoolers sat on the bench at the end of the boardwalk and shared their nature observations. They felt the wind, saw a salt marsh and blue skies and trees, and heard birds. Caregivers joined in to share that they noticed an osprey nest and gorgeous trees across the expansive salt marsh. In 2006, HCT partnered with AmeriCorps to place an osprey nesting platform in view of the boardwalk and an osprey pair has raised their young in this scenic setting ever since. 

We next had a chat about what makes a bird a bird. Explorers explained, among other adorable thoughts, that birds fly, have feathers, make nests, have beaks, lay eggs, and sing. I brought out real bird nests to be examined, taking note of each of the materials that were used to construct these avian homes.

The next learning materials included feathers from a turkey and a great egret, followed by some eggshells. While admiring the differences between flight feathers and down feathers that were so soft to touch, we learned about their separate functions. I next let youngsters hold blue eggs from a robin, brown speckled eggshells from a shore bird, thick shells from a Canada goose egg, and eggs from hatched barred owls! We felt the different thicknesses of the shells: the songbird eggs were so delicate while others, like the goose egg were quite thick. Next up was to hold an educational screech owl wing to learn about owl flight. Each Explorer examined the feather colors and textures, taking turns flapping the small owl wing through the air.

Explorers and caregivers inspected a gannet bird skull and asked lots of thoughtful questions. We discussed the different sizes, shapes, and adaptations of bird beaks as well, followed up with a discussion of the differences in birds’ feet.

Today’s book was The Little Book of Backyard Bird Songs by Andrea Pinnington, a story that invites children to learn how to identify a variety of bird songs. Its educational pages include images of birds accompanied by helpful information including their scientific name, distribution, diet, and much more. The best part of this book has to be the set of buttons that plays each bird’s song. Our Explorers enjoyed taking turns pushing each one and listening to the unique calls.

With our minds brimming with so much bird information, we felt inspired to create. Explorers designed their own bird feeders fashioned out of sticks, yarn, recycled paper tubes, sun butter, and bird seed.

Moving along, it was time to traverse more of this 12-acre paradise! We sauntered down a wintergreen and oak leaf covered path lined with bayberry and high bush blueberry bushes. Leaves crunched underfoot as we rambled toward the marsh under bright sunny skies. At the base of a massive root ball of an upturned tree where forest met marsh, there waited a mud kitchen all set up for us to have more fun. The elaborate entwined and exposed roots created an incredible sculpture and whimsical backdrop. One caregiver described the space as “magical” like a “doorway” where one exits the forest to a kitchen with a view of the marsh. 

Our creative and imaginative preschoolers got right to work creating culinary delights with spoons, pots, pans, plates, and goblets. Mud, dirt, grasses, sticks, and leaves were the special ingredients for the days delicious concoctions including “homemade honey” and “angel hair pasta” among many other secret recipes.

Today truly held all the best ingredients for me: an incredibly beautiful autumn day on Cape Cod, brilliant blue skies with abundant sunshine, and great company with curious, happy, inquisitive preschoolers and their awesome caregivers. How wonderful that this stunning conservation sanctuary will be preserved forever. Hoping my memories of these sweet precious moments in nature with our Explorers will last forever too.

Thank you for sharing this perfect Tuesday morning with me. I am excited for our next meeting, but until then – happy adventuring!

Keep Exploring.

Ms. Andrea