Monday, June 25, 2012

Master Naturalists at Summer Solstice Festival

    The "Summer Solstice" festival in Blacksburg, Virginia, gives local folks a way to be outside, enjoy oddities like the flea circus, but also take in some local music, arts and crafts, food and organizations. Our Master naturalist group had a booth there and maybe, well, we were unique. We offered a few activities for little kids (like tossing bean bag frogs on paper lily pads to win animal magnets, and fish for paper fish you put together like a puzzle) and info for adults on our organization. And a number of people came by to ask about us.
    I personally came up with a nature sheet of fun questions and match up questions and connect the dots, all on one paper. Husband Frank said it was too much on one paper. Maybe, maybe not. So where does a squirrel like to live (near or in a tree with nuts, like walnut or oak trees -- did you know that acorns are edible for humans too).
    It didn't take long to get hot out there and our intrepid leader forgot about bringing any chairs. But we brought ours and "loaned" them out to a few people while we were there.
    A number of the little kids would see the lily pads and different colored bean bags and want to stop. The person coming up with that had a great idea. Parents don't realize they could create something simple like that for their kids at home to play with.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Commune with nature: Visit Glen Alton

    I've been to Glen Alton a few times now. No, it's not someone's name, though perhaps it is the family name of those who used to live there. It has two wood shingles homes, two stories high each, and several ponds, a sand pile and mini playground. And paths in the woods -- that's where I come in.
    As a Master naturalist member, I took several people with a fellow naturalist member through the trails in the woods. When I first arrived at this destination, I couldn't see anyone. Had they decided not to come?
    This was a big deal as I had to travel a distance to get there. Glen Alton  is in the middle of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, a ways from "civilization". And I was trying to get volunteer hours by being there. And it is a nice place to walk, to think, though I can't say it's silent. There are a variety of birds calling this way and that and as I tried to identify a few different species of plants on the trail before the visitors arrived, the mosquitoes buzzed the back of my neck! Good thing I wore a shirt with a collar on it and they failed in their attempts to feast on me (which is unusual -- they seem to always get me somewhere, but I  had on long sleeves and jeans and sneakers, not sandals, so was covered up).
    Several visitors did show up and I took them, along with a fellow naturalist who was over by the "mud" pile with its dirt, hose and kitchen utensils when I arrived, down a few trails in the woods. The woods had a number of delicate looking pine -- probably white pine -- trees, as well as maple, oak, hemlock and even tulip poplar trees. Before the visitors came (an older couple and a mom with her 4 kids) I heard a commotion among those trees and saw a flash of brown through the trees some 15 yards away. It had to be a deer. At least it wasn't a grizzly (just kidding, they don't live back East).
    On our walk with the kids we pointed out different plant names, like Galax (fellow naturalist Barb says it is named for the town of Galax, VA, the first syllable a long a sound), New York fern and Christmas fern, the latter so-called because if you pull off one of its segmented leaves it looks like a Christmas stocking. I pointed out dinosaurs used to eat big, big ferns long ago and I think the kids were impressed. (Or was it the adults). Barb encouraged them to look for frogs in one the ponds that was covered with lily pads with tight little yellow flowers. We certainly heard several. Man, they were so fast! 
    I also pointed out skunk cabbage and one boy wanted to eat a sample. Its flower and they say crushing the leaves are stinky. And on the way back from the pond we showed them, in tall grass between  two tractor tracks, a little nest of 4 tiny hermit thrush babies. The baby birds were so cute and delicate looking, a dark gray so they seemed to have some covering, or maybe their skin was dark. Their eyes were closed and they had those immature beaks with the big yellow outline on them. We took the kids to see them one at a time. One girl asked if she could hold them and we said no! 
    There are a number of things to do at Glen Alton. At one big pond and child and his dad were trying to fish, there is shade and a few picnic tables near another little pond. And the beginnings of a beaver dam and a little falls. A peaceful place to be. I believe Glen Alton is open year round during the day.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Many People Keep Baby Birds

    We weren't exactly sure what to do. After several hours glued to the "boob tube," I thought we should go out and get some fresh air. The nearest open area to walk was the college campus. My husband suspected that the wildest thing we would see in the neighborhood would be the dogs the students had carelessly not put on a leash-- yes, dogs can be "wild" too if they aren't properly trained!
    So we were headed toward the middle of campus, probably to see the fountain, when I spied something odd in a campus parking lot-- a tiny bird! And when I say tiny, I mean tiny, probably a little bigger than a helpless baby bird, but this one seemed to have most of  its feathers, which looked brown and black, a brown spot on its crown with some dark gray fuzziness around it, and a beak that was immature, with the outwardly yellow outline on it. It was difficult to know how old the baby bird was either.
    "We shouldn't leave it here," I reasoned, in the middle of the parking lot. But my husband suggested we look around first. We tried to find a nest in the nearby trees --- no nest in the redbud trees, no nest in the young maple, and we couldn't find one in the very high eaves of the apartment building across from the parking lot. Where the heck did it come from?
     Frank took out a handkerchief. It did a little hopping (I found out that is a sign of maturity) and he tried to handle it gently. Then it hopped right into a hole next to the telephone pole! He somehow got it out without mangling it but it looked so darn delicate. It is wonder some things in nature manage to survive, they seem so fragile. And so we took it home.
    My thought was that we would feed it and get the name of a game warden to take it to a wildlife "rehabilitator", so we cleaned out an old cat carrier and put it in that. And put a towel over the front to keep our ol' cat out of it!
    Then I did some research online and found out that maybe, we should have just left the baby bird there. After all, if it had fallen out of a nest the parents would be nearby, and according to , the mother bird can hear the baby bird if it is within a two block radius of the nest. But since it had mostly "real "feathers, I assumed it could also be a fledging. Either way, I decided, with some misgivings, to take the little bugger back to the the area by the parking lot, and let it out in some bushes. I hope it does okay. I think I will go back in a few days and see if it is still there. Hopefully it will reunite with its family.
   But there are a number of  people and even a Yahoo group of  people who raise baby birds. They say you can use puppy chow soaked in warm water an hour so it is soggy, and in a Youtube video of a baby sparrow, which mine looked like,  they used a water dropper to feed the baby bird.
   I've seen a few websites where people have raised "house sparrows" that were injured. One rehabilitator said that if they took the sparrow to one of those centers they might just feed it to a predator like a hawk! Now  THAT wouldn't be fair at all!
    They say house sparrows, which were introduced to the U. S. in the 1850s, may be a type of Weaver finch instead. There definitely are a lot of sparrow species and so similar if you only catch a quick glimpse of them they are hard to tell apart. Maybe I should join a birding club.