Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Volunteer Photographer Gerry Beetham
Cold winds from the north with temperatures in the low 30s and bright beautiful blue skies greeted our HCT Preschool Explorers and their caregivers this morning at the town-owned 16-acre Texeira Conservation Lands.
Bundled up in winter coats, hats, and mittens, we rambled through the Preserve with smiles, curiosity, and a sense of adventure. A meadow with bird houses sat on one side of the trail with oak and pine trees on the other. While wandering, we chatted about nocturnal animals (animals active at night) versus diurnal animals (animals active during the day).
We discussed animals that might make their homes in the Texeira Conservation Lands as we investigated paths, trails, holes, fallen trees, and snags, discovering evidence of critters along the way! We paused to chat about plants and how their appearance changes this time of the year. There were berries on different plants, vines, and shrubs which will provide food for both birds and animals during the winter months. To exercise our imaginations, we pretended to be animals that lived in the forests and wetlands of the Preserve and searched for what we could use for food and shelter.
Our path led us from the shaded forest to a grassy meadow, which was a perfect spot to talk about how deer bed down and rest in the soft golden grasses. We cozied up on some comfortable mats to listen to nocturnal animal facts and adaptations. I shared Usborne Beginners Night Animals by Susan Meredith, The Nocturnals Presents Nighttime Animals Awesome Features & Surprising Adaptations by Tracey Hecht, and Bats by Megan Cullis. The books displayed photos and fun facts for several nocturnal animal friends, including owls, foxes, and bats. Each of these animals busily works and feeds right here in Harwich, all while we are fast asleep! I particularly enjoyed sharing what other animals eat with our Preschool Explorers and their comments of “me too” when there is a shared item on the menu.
Our next book was North American Animals: Raccoons by Chris Bowman. Did you know male raccoons are called boars and female raccoons are called sows? Our HCT Explorers’ caregivers are quite intrigued by the length of pregnancy of our local fauna and the raccoon was no exception. The length of a raccoon pregnancy is just two months, then the raccoon cubs or kits spend one year with mom raccoon. Our curious youngsters and their caregivers had lots of questions about these amazing nocturnal animals and their adaptations – we continue to be in awe of all the life around us.
Next up, we relaxed in a half circle on mats spaced out across the forest floor under the bluest of skies, protected from the winds by a grove of cedars, pines, and oaks for story time. I first read Goodnight, Butterfly by Ross Burach. This creative author combines humor with science while chronicling the miracle of nature in bright, whimsical, cartoon scenes depicting the life of a nocturnal creature.
I next read Divya Srinivasan’s Little Owl’s Night, a sweet, precious story that includes all the nocturnal animals I discussed with our Explorers. This story takes place in the evening in the forest and Little Owl wakes up from his day-long sleep to watch his friends, including skunks, frogs, and opossums, enjoying the night. A full moon rises and Little Owl can’t understand why anyone would want to miss it. I love reading to our preschoolers who always have such inquisitive expressions on their faces, and listening to their mamas, grandparents, and dads laugh along.
For our evening landscape art project, we settled under my favorite tree on the property – a strong beautiful oak with a bench placed perfectly underneath. We each chose between purple, black, or blue construction paper to create our nighttime landscape and any color chalk to design our moon (perhaps a pink strawberry moon or an orange harvest moon… the choices are endless). After creating our moon, we added trees of all shapes and sizes, plus glowing eyes for our nocturnal animals. Some eyes were placed in the trees (owls), some on the ground (maybe raccoons or opossums), and others were peering out from behind trees (perhaps a deer). Our creative artists were so focused on their design that even as the winds grew colder, they continued to create their masterpieces smiling all the while.
I certainly adore time shared with our HCT Explorers and their caregivers and I am so looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday morning for more fun and learning, walking and discovering, reading and creating.