Are You A Nature Detective?
On a cold January morning, I headed out to the Cross Estate Gardens for a nature hike sponsored by the Great Swamp Watershed Association to find out if I have what it takes to be a nature detective. Led by our intrepid guide, Hazel (part of the GSWA staff), we learned how to follow clues that birds, bunnies, deer, raccoons and other creatures leave behind. What do you think we found?
The first part of being a nature detective in January when it's 20 degrees outside is making sure you're dressed for the job! I wrapped up in lots of layers, warm gloves, my trusty turtle hat, and a nice, snuggly scarf. I also brought a thermos of homemade peppermint hot chocolate to warm me up when I got too cold! We didn't need magnifying glasses like Sherlock Holmes because the clues were all around us. And once Hazel showed us what to look for, there were signs of life everywhere!
Winter is a perfect time to follow these clues in the beautiful white snow covering the ground. It's pretty and it makes clues easy to spot! The first thing we found was scat, or droppings from an animal (you know, poop!). See how it shows up against the snow? This was a big clue that something had been on the path before us!
Leftovers! What Nibbles Do Animals Leave Behind?
We found cones that had been nibbled for their seeds. See how the pine cone looks just like a corn cob now? I've walked past these cones lots of times on hikes in the woods, but I never realized they were animal leftovers. Look even more carefully at the ground around the cones and you can see how an animal got to the seeds.
Can you see all of the scales that an animal stripped from the pine cone to get to the seeds? I bet the animal was really hungry and really patient to work through all of those scales. Have you seen these on the ground? Did you know what they were? I didn't. I was really surprised to learn this.
Next, we found more leftovers. Can you spot the seed pod below in the leaves? It would be really easy to miss if you weren't looking carefully for clues. It used to be round and full. Something bit it in half and ate the good parts inside!
Treehouses, Nests, and Hidey Holes
We also learned to look for places where animals might like to hide. First, we found a little nook nestled at the bottom of a tree. Wouldn't this be a great place to curl up and take a winter nap?
Then, we found a hole in a different tree that would make an ideal home. This one was halfway up the tree.
High up over our heads, we spotted a nest where birds bed down in the winter. There were animal homes everywhere! On the ground, inside the tree and up in the branches!
Feathers are another way to know that birds have been in the area. Here's a very pretty feather on the ground left behind by a bird.
Follow the Tracks!
Finally, we looked for tracks in the snow. We found tracks from bunnies and maybe a fox. We also left some silly tracks of our own for future detectives!
Thanks to Hazel for helping us to learn how to become nature detectives and spot the signs that our animal friends left behind! What clues do you think you can find on your next walk? Are you going to be an awesome nature detective?