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Nature with Rob Newsletter

Nature with Rob - December 2016/january 2017

Here's a list of things we have talked about since I last wrote this newsletter; beavers, antlers and horns, tracks, food chain, winter food, hibernation, owls, and evergreens.  That is too much to go into depth on every topic, so here's the condensed version.

Beavers are one of the few animals that can radically alter their habitat and create new ones.  They have adaptations making them ideally suited to their aquatic life.  Antlers are shed every year, and regrow larger.  Horns remain for the life of the animal.  Now is the time that deer and moose shed their antlers.  Tracks are proof that an animal has been there.  By following tracks you can learn a lot about the animal's behavior.  Following tracks is one of my favorite winter activities.

Talking about the food chain is an indoor activity.  All energy comes from the sun; green plants capture the sun's energy.  When an animal eats a plant it gets the sun's energy.  That animal gets eaten and the energy gets passed on.  I demonstrate this using natural artifacts that I have gathered  Just before the winter vacation we talked about how hard it can be for creatures to find food during the cold months.  As a holiday gift we put out corn in the woods!  PSC prepared other food offerings and left them in the Little Woods so they could monitor animal activity.  Some creatures avoid the winter food problem by sleeping through the winter.  Few mammals are true hibernators; most are deep sleepers.  Many reptiles and amphibians hibernate as do some insects.

This is the time of year that owls are calling in the local woods looking for a mate and preparing a nest site.  Their young are born early in the spring about the time the melting snow exposes mice and migrating birds are arriving, thus providing an abundant food source.  Most recently we talked about evergreens.  Most evergreen trees have needles and cones.  The foliage provides winter protection for animals from wind and weather.  The cones provide a source of food.  Evergreens, whether trees or ground cover, are able to use the sun's energy to grow new leaves in the spring.  (But they do expend some energy fighting the cold.)

Well, that's two months of nature in a nutshell.  What's coming up?  I don't know.  We are just finishing a record book warm January.  Our worst snow storm dumped 12+ inches on Cape Cod ("It never snows on the Cape" - 60's quote).  Our big Nor Easter was a rain storm.  The only way to deny climate change is with "alternate facts".   But, on the 2nd of February the groundhog (woodchuck) will predict early spring or not.  If there is melting snow, watch for evidence of tunneling voles, shrews, and mice.  Skunks emerge from their dormancy to mate about mid month.  Starlings, chickadees, and titmice begin singing their spring songs.  On warm sunny days watch for snow fleas near the base of tree trunks.  They look like moving pepper sprinkled on the snow.  Near the end of the month, maple sap begins to flow, and skunk cabbage sprouts in the swamps.

In closing I am going to tell you about a day that just happened.  The weather was really iffy, the kids were full of energy, we could have stayed in but the teacher said "let's go out".  I would say that none of the teachers (including me) were happy with the conditions outside, but the kids were engaged, exploring and having a good time, with no complaining.  Get out and explore.  You will be better for it.