Tuesday, April 11, 2017

BSA Field Trip to Robinson Nature Center

My son's Bear Scout den had an outing to the Robinson Nature Center in Howard County, Maryland. The center runs a program specifically to meet the requirements of the Bears' Fur, Feathers, and Ferns belt loop. The program included classroom activities as well as outdoor exploration and information. We arrived a little bit early and had time to play on some of the indoor exhibits.

Indoor temporary exhibit (not very exciting)

My daughter tagged along since she loves nature and outdoor activities. We started with indoor stuff, including discussions of various animals that live in Maryland and how to identify their presence. Animals leave behind their bodies when they die, which means pelts can be recovered if found early enough. Bones can be found later. One activity had the scouts matching skulls to pelts.

Skull and pelt matching

Other evidence animals leave behind are footprints, sheddables like snake skins or bird feathers, and scat. Our guide said that "scat" is the scientific term for "poop," which actually didn't get as big a laugh as you would imagine with a group of eight- and nine-year old boys. The guide had some plaster molds of animal footprints as well as plastic samples of animal scat. The boys had fun trying to guess which scat came from which animal.

Deer vertebra, molds of paw prints, "scat," and snake skins

We also discussed various causes of extinction of species and several species that have gone extinct (some of which have been rediscovered!). The program then moved outside for a hike with lots of interesting information.

Finding a tree with some unfallen leaves in April!

The center provided clipboards with the various belt loop requirements on it. One requirement is to examine a leaf with a magnifying glass. My son dutifully looked at a leaf to see its details. Later in the hike, we saw some holly leaves that have a waxy surface to keep in the moisture.

Examining a leaf

The guide also had us look closely at the bark of various trees, examining the shape, color, and texture to help identify the tree.

My daughter gives a tree an up-close examination

We kept our eyes peeled for animal tracks as well. We did find some deer tracks in the mud (a good spot to find them) along the trail and what appeared to be a possum track by the stream.

Everyone check out the deer track!

Toes are wide, meaning the deer was probably running

Down by the river

Hard to spot animal track

White oaks are famous for their acorns, some of which we found near these four trees.

Maryland White Oaks

A nearby downed log was home to a very different sort of organism--some mushrooms were growing on it. The guide explained that fungus is so different from plant and animal life that it is classified as a third type of living organism. This corn-colored and -shaped fungus was not good looking enough to tempt anyone to try it. That's just as well, since we weren't allowed to disturb it anyway!

Corn fungus?

Along the trail we spotted several large shelters. The boys asked and found out that during some of the summer programs visitors build small shelters in the woods! The shelters were far off the trail so we did not get to investigate them.

A human shelter

Another shelter

The nature center seen from the woods

We walked further down the stream and discovered evidence of a beaver. He or she had eaten down a tree! The tree was still there, so the guide said the beaver was probably eating the tree as food rather than getting supplies for a dam or lodge.

Evidence of beavers

The trail also provided evidence of humans from long ago (but not too long ago). Some square- and rectangular-cut stones were piled on both sides of the creek, indicating a dam. The path also has the ruins of a mill run. Two hundred years ago the locals diverted some of the water from the stream to power a mill some distance from the stream.

Blockish rocks on the other side of the stream

The start of the mill run

More mill run

We finished our tour by looking at various ways of composting. In addition to composting the grass from various meadows, the center composts leftover food and even oyster shells! The shells are collected from individuals and restaurants and then returned to the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Oysters are a natural filter for the water but have had a diminishing population. Putting the shells in the bay (probably where they came from in the first place) enables new oysters to have an easy time finding a place to grow.

Of course, the smell of the composting isn't particularly nice, so we didn't stay too long.

Composting demo 

We had a little more classroom time at the end and then went on our way. The last thing the boys received were seeds to grow a garden at home. The guide had two types of seeds, lettuce and cantaloupe. Even though my daughter and son weren't sitting anywhere near each other, they managed to both get cantaloupe seeds. Perhaps there will be a future blog post on those if we successfully grown them!

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