Reflections by Naturalist & Walk Leader Andrea Higgins
Photos courtesy of HCT Volunteer Photographer Gerry Beetham
The 49-acre Pleasant Bay Woodlands welcomed the Preschool Explorer crew with brilliant sunshine, blue skies, and temperatures barely reaching 60 degrees. We began our morning stringing hemp cord through small slices of an oak tree branch to make necklaces. Before venturing out on the trails, I read The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward to inspire our search for oak tree animal homes.
Away we went down the beautiful, winding, pine needle-covered path and into the stunning oak and pine woodlands. Explorers were quick to identify poison ivy, so we made sure to stay on the path and admire all that was happening in the peaceful woods that surrounded us. Pausing, we cupped our hands to our ears and listened to the sounds of birds and airplanes soaring above. Sauntering down the trails we admired moss, pinecones, leaf litter, and pine needles.
Along the path was a tall snag with fungus growing on the surface and several tunnels burrowing inside the trunk. Putting on our naturalist thinking-caps, we determined that the holes’ residents likely included birds and possibly flying squirrels. We gently knocked on the tree to see if any little faces would come out to investigate us. When no one appeared, we decided they were probably sleeping.
Still gathered together after our investigation of the snag, one youngster suggested I read another story as there was a perfectly placed log along the trailside for Explorers to sit upon. I selected Tree by Britta Teckentrup.
The windy path continued through tall trees twisting up and reaching towards the sky, until we arrived at an intersection of trails. One caregiver searched the surroundings for animal sign (scat) where the two trails met. There was no standout animal evidence, but a young pine growing in the sunshine caught our attention. We sat in its company for the reading of Little Pine by E.A. Glaspie. The story allows readers to witness the growth of this favorite evergreen as it transforms from an unsure young sapling into a strong and confident steward of the forest, learning about friendship and family along the way.
Continuing on, we searched for a lady slipper flower I had discovered just last evening — without any luck — but we did come across the blossoms of a highbush blueberry and learned about the stages of this developing fruit!
Next, all Preschool Explorers and caregivers added branches to our eagle nest that we started building during a previous adventure a couple of months ago. Explorers were all smiles as they climbed inside the nest, some pretending to be eaglets and some pretending to lay eagle eggs.
Continuing our search saunter, we paused to admire dandelions and daisies, then scanned the bog looking for signs of animals. Trails through the water and vegetation made us wonder if a muskat or duck had been swimming through. Additional observations included tree swallows flitting about, ducks taking a swim in the waters, and a frog in the bog.
Ready for a bit of exercise, Explorers climbed a hill and raised their arms victoriously once they made it to the top in celebration of their efforts and accomplishment. Next, they rounded the trail away from the warm sunny bog, with caregivers in tow, through a portal of trees where we instantly felt the temperature change. We gave thanks to the oak trees for the shade and cooler temperatures. Explorers stretched out for a brief rest, leaning on the banks of the trail, gazing up toward the sky.
Moving along, we soon arrived at a bench, and we spread out our sitting mat nearby so everyone could have a seat. I brought out two bird nests for Explorers to observe, including a pendulum nest from the Baltimore oriole. I also brought out the stuffed animal version of the oriole for all to see and hold.
I next passed around a container filled with oak apple galls (spheres formed in reaction to a wasp laying her eggs inside a leaf) for Explorers to examine. These galls are harmless to humans and the tree, and are a beneficial food source to wildlife including birds and mammals. Oak apple wasps (Amphibolips confluent) are one of the many insects that rely solely on oak trees.
All this adventuring and learning had our creative juices flowing, so it was time for an art project! Extra-large pieces of construction paper were handed out to everyone, along with markers and crayons. From the blank pages grew towering oak trees hosting all kinds of life, with holes for owls, raccoons, and squirrels. Bird nests, beehives, galls, and opossums adorned the branches. One Explorer focused his attention on drawing strong supportive roots to bring life to the tree.
Another spectacular day of playing, learning, laughing, and discovering. Thank you to all who preserve these special places in Harwich, protecting homes for animals, birds, and insects, and providing the perfect outdoor classroom to learn about nature.
Thank you, Explorers, for all the farewell hugs. I can hardly wait for our next adventure.