Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos by Halley Steinmetz
Sunshine, bright blue skies, gentle breezes, and temperatures in the high 60s welcomed the smiling HCT Preschool Explorers and their caregivers to the beautiful Coy’s Brook Woodlands this morning. It was such a spectacular day to explore one of Harwich Conservation Trust’s treasures. This preserve has scenic views of the salt marsh that buffers the Herring River, beautiful woodlands with pine, oak, and beech trees, and a vernal pool nestled in an Atlantic White Cedar Swamp! Our Explorers greeted each other, welcoming new attendees, and began walking down the trail holding hands and chatting.
As we sauntered down the trail, we admired Star Flowers – a North American woodland perennial that blooms between May and June. We chatted about and identified poison ivy on the property so we would all know what to avoid touching. Pausing on the trail, we admired the sweeping views of the salt marsh and took some big breaths in, sniffing the air to notice what we could smell. Our Explorers announced that they could smell “salt”, “mud”, “leaves”, “sunshine”, “butterflies”, “strawberries”, and “summer”.
After meandering a wee bit further, we paused to make observations in the marsh. Our Explorers reported that they could see “water”, “a river”, “swan”, “grasses”, “the ocean”, and “blue sky”. We continued rambling along and admired the bell-shaped blossoms of the blueberry bushes, gently touched the brand new leaves of the beech tree, knelt down to feel the moist, spongy mosses, and savored the sweet-scented breezes.
Preschool Explorers all sat together on a perfectly placed bench looking out across the marsh and nearby Coy’s Brook to listen to A Day in the Salt Marsh by Kevin Kurtz. This story is about the salt marsh, one of the most dynamic habitats on Earth. The rhyming verse introduces readers to hourly changes in the marsh as the tide comes and goes. Together we chatted about turtles and terrapins, periwinkle snails, river otters, Great Blue Heron, oysters, blue crabs, fish, fiddler crabs, horseshoe crabs, spartina grass (grasses growing in salt marshes) and birds that visit the marsh.
Continuing along the path, the bluest of skies was a beautiful backdrop to the maze of tree branches above with freshly unfolded leaves. Another pause provided an opportunity to find a nature pencil (a stick) and practice writing the letter T (today’s letter of the day) on the Trail. Our Preschool friends did a Terrific job drawing their T’s.
Our walk’s featured T animal was a very special Terrapin Turtle – the diamondback terrapin – whose range is from Texas to Cape Cod. The diamondback terrapin lives in brackish waters, including tidal rivers and marshes. They have beautiful diamond-shaped scutes (plates) on the shell, which gives them their name. Their diet is mostly mollusks, including clams, snails and mussels, but they will also eat fish, worms, insects, and crustaceans. These Terrific Terrapins spend their whole lives in the marsh except for when the females come up onto the beaches to dig a shallow nest in the sand to lay her eggs. Explorers looked at a photo of a diamondback terrapin hatchling who is the same size as a quarter and listened to stories of local kindergarten students (citizen scientists) who care for these turtles in a head start program.
Next, the enthusiastic Preschool Explorers designed their own Turtles and Terrapins. Each colored and designed a shell and added a green circle for a turtle head, four green squares for legs, and one green triangle for a turtle tail. The Preschoolers sat on a log with their turtle/terrapin creations to listen to A Foolish Tortoise by Richard Buckley and Eric Carle, a wonderfully illustrated story about a silly tortoise learning the hard way that there’s no place like home.
A slow stroll down the soft pine needle covered path looped us back around to the start of our adventures. The energetic Explorers shared farewells of “good-bye” and “see you next week” with each other.
Thank you, wonderful Explorers and caregivers, for sharing a beautiful Tuesday morning with me.
I am already looking forward to next week’s fun adventures together in the heart of Harwich Port.