We invite our members to enjoy a weekly blog written by our naturalists. Every blog will be uniquely different but always inspired by nature. We may share a memory from a recent hike at The Woods or teach you about an animal or plant that lives on the preserve. No matter the topic, we will be sharing with you our passion for nature and celebrating the connections we all have to the natural world. Each blog will be connected to a weekly set of activities and ideas to help you put nature in your hands, even if you’re at home!
Week of October 18 – October 24
by Melissa Kirby, Environmental Educator
Descending down into the valley at Baltimore Woods, it’s apparent to see the autumn season has painted the forest with a wide palette of colors. Arriving at a section of the stream, I take a moment to examine the water. I notice the visible vibration of the water as it flows down the stream, watching ripples and concentric circles, and the water dancing over rocks. I see the images of trees hanging over the stream bed, rocks, and sediment under the surface of the water. Now this is something that intrigues my curiosity. What is the color of this water?
If you dive into the research of that question you’ll likely find yourself down a rabbit hole of organic chemistry and light physics. Many scientists have come to the consensus that water is blue, however in some cases we can’t see it, sometimes it’s only slightly blue, and other times it’s a very dark blue. So I suppose if you used a blue crayon to draw the water as a kid you were right! The color of water is determined by examining the vibration of water molecules. Water absorbs visible light from the sun in the spectrum that includes red, orange, yellow, and green. Blue light is not absorbed but is scattered, which produces the blue color we sometimes see in water.
When looking in the stream there aren’t enough water molecules scattering blue light so the stream appears clear. Looking at a larger body of water with more water molecules like an ocean, the scattering of blue light occurs and we can see that blue water color. If we’re standing too close we may not be able to see the blue color, and if the water has different sediment in it like clay or lime, this changes the color as well.
So what is the color of water? What do you think? Go outside and observe a body of water to see what you find! Keep enjoying those colors in nature!
Seeing Nature Through Magic Lenses
Week of October 11 – October 17
by Becky Wilson, Environmental Educator
I was out admiring the beautiful colors of the fall leaves with my two children the other day and we came upon a tree that was the most magnificent red we had ever seen. I watched as they circled the small maple absolutely enthralled in the magic of what they were seeing. They asked me what happened to the tree and though I could have dropped all kinds of scientific knowledge on them I simply said “The fairies have been very busy decorating the forest, they must have gotten tired of all the green.” And with that we spent the next hour or so searching for other trees the fairies had “decorated”.
This is not to say that it isn’t important to teach our kids the why of things that happen in nature but why not add in a magical twist? My older son knows the reason that leaves change color, but he also has an imagination that rivals mine and, in that moment, chose to see the world through magic lenses and I am happy to encourage that. Our imaginations are a powerful tool no matter your age.
I encourage you to experience the world in this way. Autumn is the best time to put on those magic lenses and enjoy the beauty of the season with all your senses. The variation in color of the leaves is awe inspiring. The dozens of shades of red and orange that are produced feels entirely the work of some otherworldly being. I can envision a small fellow dancing upon the leaves, where his feet touch color splashed forth until the forest is a rainbow of vibrancy. What is your imagination creating in your mind?
The feel of the cool breeze, the crisp scent of the air, the music of leaves rustling or crunching underfoot, the songs of the birds mingling with busy chatter of squirrels; these are all magical experiences that the autumn weather brings. When was the last time you saw magic in nature? Put those magic lenses on, get out for a walk and see nature in all its magical glory.
Share your pictures or drawings with us at email@example.com!
New Life in Autumn
Week of October 4 – October 10
by Tom Meier, Camp Director and Program Manager
Standing on the bank of a clear New England stream in autumn feels like living in a painting. Impossibly brilliant maple leaves hang over the tumbling water and mossy rocks. Deep pools swirl with yellows, reds, and oranges of sunken leaves, reminding me of a Spin Art toy in slow motion.
It would be easy and understandable to mistake autumn as being an ending. Most of the plants have put out seeds, insects all but disappear, life cycles seem to be complete for another year. In those clear autumn streams, however, for brook trout, life is starting anew.
Brook trout, a kind of arctic char, spawn in the fall, meaning that they travel upstream when the water temperatures drop to lay eggs in the gravelly stream bed. Females look for areas where cold groundwater springs bubble up through the gravel and scrape out a nest, or “redd”, in which the eggs are deposited. Beginning in February, the eggs start to hatch and the tiny “fry” emerge, relying on small insects for food.
During the spawn, the colors of the male trout become as vivid as the autumn forests in which they live. Deep greens, oranges, blues, and reds, swirling in the streams. Standing on the bank of such a stream, it would be easy to mistake a leaf for a fish, or to forget that for some, autumn is, in truth, a beginning.
For more information on brook trout and many of fish, visit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s website here: https://www.fws.gov/fisheries/freshwater-fish-of-america/brook_trout.html#:~:text=Brook%20trout%20normally%20mature%20in,shallow%20water%20near%20the%20shoreline.
Click here to watch see brook trout spawning in action, complete with territorial behaviors and a sneaky male: https://youtu.be/9ugS0PHQbWA
Signs of Fall
Week of September 27 – October 3
by Eliza Phillips, Environmental Educator
Fall is here and pumpkin spice lattes are back! For many, the sweet aroma of pumpkin and hot cider are the first signs of fall, but to me, there are so many other things that signify this seasonal change. After a muggy Central New York summer one of the first things I notice about the upcoming change is the need to wear socks again and maybe even a light jacket in the mornings and evenings. These cooler temperatures seem to make me pay more attention to the plants and animals in my backyard to see if their behavior confirms what the temperature is suggesting.
I begin to notice a faint color change in just a few leaves on the edges of the forests. The green leaves look drab and tired compared to how bright they were just a few months before. As the days get shorter and the temperature continues to cool, the tired green transforms into brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges, giving the season a magical feel which is heightened by the unmistakable smell of fallen leaves in the crisp autumn air.
The sound of hundreds of geese calling to one another as they fly in neat formation creates the music to which this beautiful scene is set. Small animals, such as squirrels and mice also prepare for the cold and snow. They are busy collecting food to stash for the inevitable long dark months. All of the seeds and nuts that they squirrel away may not be found again, though evidence of their forgetfulness will sprout come spring.
These are just a few of my signs of fall. What are yours? Perhaps it is the sight of a school bus coming down the street or a special fall treat. Next time you’re outside take a moment to think about what signals to you that the fall season is here and share it with us by tagging us on Facebook or Instagram.
Citizen Scientist: A Call to Action
Week of September 20 – September 26
by Becky Wilson, Environmental Educator
Are you a bird watcher? A flower admirer? A star gazer? A frog whisperer? Just love nature in general? Then you, my friend, can be a citizen scientist!
All of the above and more are currently being monitored and researched by millions of community citizens just like you all over the world! There is no experience needed and many of the projects listed below provide training and even tools to complete the work scientists need our help with! Through data collection and real time mapping abilities through smart phones, we can provide scientists and researchers with a wealth of information they otherwise would not be able to get on such a large wide-spread scale.
Citizen scientists also help to spread awareness and promote engaged community involvement in the protection of our most precious resources. It is a valuable way to volunteer your time and a wonderful way to share the importance of scientific knowledge especially with our youth.
Are you ready to answer the call? To create a closer connection to the nature around you? To help scientists answer real world questions? Excellent! I have listed some projects to get you started below, the opportunities to contribute are endless!
- It is not too late in the season to get out to your favorite pond or stream and monitor frog populations for Frogwatch USA. (https://www.aza.org/frogwatch)
- Birds are beginning to migrate south or are getting ready to hunker down here with us for the winter, start tracking their progress in your own backyard with the Great Backyard Bird Count. (https://gbbc.birdcount.org/)
- Be sure to mark your calendars for the Christmas Bird Count, one of my family’s favorite programs! It is also the oldest citizen science project dating back to 1900! (https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count)
- Watch this week’s animal feature video on black-capped chickadees and learn about other exciting bird monitoring opportunities!
- For those more interested in our plant allies, check out the iNaturalist site and app (https://www.inaturalist.org/) Our nature journaling prompt is a great way to get started on these observations!
- If the sky has your eye, then check out Globe At Night (globeatnight.org) and submit your sky brightness observations to contribute to current studies of light pollution.
Grab a friend, family member, or your kiddos and head out into the world to make a difference as a citizen scientist!
Mammals of the Night
Week of September 13 – September 19
by Lexi Grove, Environmental Educator
Mammals have been creatures of the night since the age of dinosaurs. After the dinosaurs went extinct, mammals crept from the shadows to conquer the daylight. Though many species did evolve to spend their time in the sun, some remained in the dark. That is why today we still find a number of species well adapted to spending their nights wide awake.
Nocturnal mammals have special adaptations for their nighttime adventures. The most important for many nocturnal animals, is night vision. Large eyes with wide pupils chock-full of rods, a type of vision cell, take in available light. The glow we see from the eyes of nocturnal mammals is caused by a layer of cells that act like a mirror, reflecting light back into rod cells. Along with their sense of sight, nocturnal mammals have acute hearing. Their cupped ears funnel sound and allow them to hear the tiniest squeak from a mouse up to 100 feet away. Night dwelling mammals also have an incredible sense of smell; detecting food miles away.
So, how do humans fare as nocturnal mammals? I can say from experience (stubbing my toe in the middle of the night) that our night vision leaves much to be desired. It is safe to say that our eyes are well adapted to the daytime, though in a way, we have adapted to the night through innovation and invention. Mammals have evolved nocturnal adaptations over millions of years-I feel like we cheated a bit with the light bulb.
Grand Show of Nature
Week of September 6 – September 12
by Melissa Kirby, Environmental Educator
Walking the Field to Forest Trail at Baltimore Woods I trek up an incline that brings me to the top of a hill. Looking back behind me I’m gifted with the beautiful view of the forest below. As I take a moment to examine the area, I become aware of the trees, plants covering the surface of the forest floor, and birds calling in the canopies.
Listening to the crickets in the distance, I give it a deeper consideration. What makes up this forest? The answer is a forest like this is composed of 1. living organisms, 2. once living organisms, and 3. non-living things. How many living organisms can you imagine in a forest? How many once living? How many non-living things? The remarkable part to all of this is that each piece of the forest has a role to play in this grand show of nature. Think of the trees that produce oxygen and food for the animals. The animals that prey upon each other, eat plants, or both. The fungi that break down dead trees and leaves. The rocks and soil that provide homes and shape the forest.
Is everything in a forest connected? The commonality for these living, once living, and nonliving pieces is the energy flowing through it all, and there’s a balance to it. When I look out into the forest I see an ecosystem, where everything within it has purpose to help maintain balance. A masterpiece of nature.
As humans we have a role in the forest too. We can quietly observe and appreciate the beauty. We can help maintain the balance. We can seek answers to questions about how the forest thrives. We can share those answers with others. I invite you to take some time to ponder, “What is my role in this grand show of nature?”
Art in Nature
Week of August 30 – September 5
by Eliza Phillips, Environmental Educator
For as long as humans have been on this planet we have been making art. Creating drawings, carvings, paintings, sculptures, music, and more about the things all around us. Most notably about the natural world around us. And no wonder we have, nature is breathtakingly beautiful! From sunrise to sunset we have always been surrounded by bits of nature that when we stop to look at closely enough never fail to amaze us. Take the most common and mundane leaf, an artist’s brush or pencil can bring out its most delicate details.
But we are not the only creatures who create works of art. Nature herself does too. While a caddisfly larva may not set out each day to sculpt a masterpiece, that is exactly what it accomplishes. By doing what it must to survive a caddisfly larva creates an intricate sculpture from whatever it can find in its habitat. Sticks, leaves, and pebbles are carefully assembled into a delicate home for the aquatic insect. What may simply be a safe place to sleep to the caddisfly can be viewed as a work of art to us. Spiders as well, one of the most feared animals to humans, likely do not set out to create the perfect shimmering web for us to admire, but create it for the need to catch a meal. When their sticky traps are covered in dew they tend to look like strings of jewels arranged in a beautiful pattern.
The music of nature is an art form, too! Most birds, like the hermit thrush, are calling out a greeting or maybe a warning to each other but we hear an enchanting fluted song. And when joined with others of its species and of different species the most beautiful chorus erupts from the best place to sing, the tree tops.
While we create art to mimic and praise the beauty of the natural world, nature is also creating art by simply doing what it does best, existing. So next time you head outside remember that nature is always around us and try to find the art that is already there. Maybe it is a pattern left by an insect on a leaf or a shimmering snail trail. Perhaps a sunset catches your eye or the voice of a stream sings to you. Nature is always around us and so is art. Share your stories and pictures of art created by nature that you see by tagging @baltimorewoodsnaturecenter on Facebook or Instagram.
Health Benefits of Nature
Week of August 23 – August 29
by Emily Overstrom, Environmental Educator
We all love spending time in nature; bird-watching, hiking, looking for amphibians, or just sitting and enjoying the views. Not only is being in nature enjoyable, it also benefits our physical and mental health! Spending time in nature has been shown to increase cognitive function, reduce stress, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, improve mood, and increase energy levels. You don’t have to travel to Yosemite to experience these benefits either, walking around a city park, hiking local trails, or spending days in your backyard will all be beneficial to your physical and mental health.
When I go out for a hike I can’t feel my blood pressure being lowered or my cognitive function increasing but I do feel, well, better! The stress of daily life and our sensory-filled environments can be quite overwhelming, but when I am alone in the forest I truly begin to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. In those moments on the trail the only things that matter are the sights, sounds, and smells of nature.
Your task for this week? Get outside! Go for a walk, sit under a tree, look for flowers, visit a local park and listen to the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. However you would like to do it, spend a few moments (or more) reaping the benefits of nature and breathing in the fresh air.
Week of August 16 – August 22
by Whitney Lash-Marshall, Executive Director
Just as spring was beginning to, well, spring, the Interpretive Center was shut down and programs and work went from in-person to virtual. However, the trails have always remained open and the Baltimore Woods Preserve has been far from empty! Since March we have had some of the highest numbers of visitors as people looked to get outside and away from screens, to exercise, and for a special place they knew they could both explore nature and find restorative connections for themselves, or as a family.
These visitors weren’t alone – not only were the forests and fields coming alive with the changing seasons and returning migrators, but there was also an often unseen (but incredible) team of volunteer trail stewards that have been out walking the trails everyday to monitor trail conditions, maintain the preserve, and welcome new hikers and help those with questions (from a safe physical distance).
What would our trail stewards tell you about these walks in the woods? They observe so much more than muddy spots, needed bridge repairs, and downed trees! Here is a compilation of just a few of their tales of where they went, did, heard and saw:
- “It was a beautiful afternoon – not too hot with a little breeze. I started on the Boundary trail… then on to the Overlook Trail, back down to the Boundary trail further on and around the Boundary trail to slide over to the Field to Forest trail down the trail to the field and then back to the parking lot…”
- “Lots of leeks, bloodroot, hepatica, trilliums (in bud), spring beauty & blue cohosh; it was amazing how much the woods has changed in a week. Saw 4 deer between the Field to Forest and Boundary Trail, we both kept our distance from each other per the social guidelines.”
- “The pollinators were creating a high pitched hum in the canopy along The Upper Valley Trail.”
- “The wood thrushes were singing along the boundary trail; it is nice to have them back.”
- “We walked the Field to Forest and Griffiths Trails… Came across what appeared to be a very fat short-headed garter snake sunning in the middle of the Griffiths Trail, and heard a towhee urging me to drink my tea.”
- “It was a beautiful day and I also saw a caterpillar dancing while having lunch.”
- “Serenades by a veery, hooded warbler and an indigo bunting. Got to see the ebony jewel wings by the stream.”
- “One whitetail deer, one garter snake, one eastern cottontail rabbit, a couple of squirrels and chipmunks, and two humans…”
- “Another glorious day in the woods. Trails all looked good…Saw a raft of turtles sunning themselves on the pond.”
- “Finished hiking and returned to picnic table repair when approached by a man and his son who wanted to tell me they saw a fawn laying down along the OT. They showed me a pic and were concerned that the mother was not around. I told them not to worry as the mother was likely around and explained that doe hide their young and head off to browse. It was nice to see how excited the young boy was to tell me about this adventure.”
Their trail reports became the eyes and ears for those who couldn’t be at the preserve as often as we might have liked, sharing the magic of the changing seasons from winter to spring and spring to summer. What a gift! Create your own series of trail tales by keeping a nature journal of what you experience as you hike or by sending us your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Week of August 9 – August 15
by Lexi Grove, Environmental Educator
A mammal in flight-that’s us, right? Not exactly. Although humans have invented a machine that flies us around the world, we have not evolved true flight. The only group of mammals that has evolved true flight is bats. You may be thinking, “What about flying squirrels?” These daredevils are classified as gliders, not true fliers, though it is thought that bats evolved from a gliding ancestor about 60 million years ago.
Bats are in the order Chiroptera, which is greek for “hand-wing”. A fitting name considering the long, thin wing bones are the same bones we find in our hands. Stretched between the fingers is a thin membrane of skin called the patagium. Bat wings look delicate and weak, but their structure allows for more flexibility than the wing of a bird. Due to this flexibility, bats are unable to generate enough lift to take off from the ground, so they must drop from high perches. Once in flight their maneuverability compares to no other, making them precise predators.
The majority of bat species that live in North America consume insects. One bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes each night. That’s a thousand less mosquitoes around to bite you! Though bats have good eyesight, they rely mainly on echolocation to find their prey in the dark. They send out high frequency calls and listen for the echo. Large, ridged ears detect the softest sounds, which are processed to create an image of their surroundings. With high frequency recording devices, scientists have discovered that each bat species emits unique calls.
The combination of echolocation, sight, and wing flexibility make bats one of the most efficient and acrobatic fliers in the world. You don’t have to like bats to appreciate the incredible adaptations they have evolved in this group of mammals over millions of years.
The Only Constant? Change.
Week of August 2 – August 8
by Grace Carlic, Environmental Educator
As a nature center, Baltimore Woods knows all about how animals adapt to change, and this spring, our education team had to find their own ways to adapt to the global pandemic and keep our community connected to nature. Within a matter of days, our hands-on, minds-on, in-person programming was no longer an option. The staff decided to rise to the challenge and began developing virtual content. Lexi Grove, an educator and naturalist, said of the experience, “The learning curve was steep, but I think we’ve been able to streamline it pretty well. The more videos I create, the more comfortable I am with being in front of and behind the camera.”
Educators transformed several planned in-person public programs covering the emergence of spring, the animals that inhabit Baltimore Woods, and more in-depth explorations. With cameras and tripods in tow, educators have gone into the field to create these programs. Eliza Phillips, an educator and naturalist, reflected upon a favorite moment from filming in the field, “On one of the last days I was filming my beaver program I was poking around the pond checking out the dam — it was after the time when the beavers usually become inactive for the day so I wasn’t paying attention to the pond. Suddenly a beaver made a huge tail slap, like they do. It scared me so much that I almost fell into the pond!” Thankfully, Eliza did not fall into the pond but she did come away with a memory.
In creating these new, virtual community programs, educators also had their own experiences re-connecting to nature. When Lexi “…set out in search of pale swallow wort to film for my public program…on my way back I saw a butterfly. I started filming it and at one point it landed on my hand! It stayed with me for a little while before finally flying off.” When Emily was creating her spring wildflowers with poets program, she said, “Viewing the Spring ephemeral wildflowers through the moving words of poets really made me stop and appreciate the wildflowers that much more.”
Have you ever tried to create a virtual program that features the natural world? Try capturing some video on your next hike or even in your backyard. Do things look different through the lens? Share your videos with us at email@example.com.
Baltimore Woods Through a Counselor’s Eyes
Week of July 26 – August 1
by Whitney Lash-Marshall, Executive Director
To a camp counselor, Baltimore Woods looks a bit different than just a cool place to hike.. Logs they pass alongside the trail are mentally categorized as one of two varieties: not quite right or having perfect conditions to be a treasure trove of salamanders and slugs. They scan plant leaves for a colorful caterpillar to point out or for the telltale warning signs of stinging nettle or poison ivy to quickly redirect the young group following behind them. More than a path from point A to point B, the trails become a journey, navigating the adventures that lie ahead and the memories of past camps that are triggered by sights, sounds, and smells along the way. Some trails, like the one up to the pond, might evoke a sense of pressure – what if they aren’t able to catch a frog today for their campers to see up close? Other trails, like the one leading to the brook, give them the opportunity to share the story of the time they caught the biggest crayfish they had ever seen!
For many of our counselors, these trails evoke memories of when they were campers and teen volunteers themselves, giving them a unique perspective on the power of the hands-on experiences they are providing. They can plan for teachable moments but are adaptable to highlight a special moment, like when a woodpecker lands on an adjacent tree or finding a new fungi that has emerged. They know just when to share a personal story to help encourage a camper to step out of their comfort zone and gain self-confidence, like when a camper is nervous to cross a log for the first time. By sharing a personal experience, counselors can subtly help a camper make their own good decision in a moment when they might be getting close to a situation that could cause a minor injury. They know the special places that will engage and entertain their campers for hours, and that the moments and friendships they are helping create at Baltimore Woods will remain with their campers for years to come.
Drawn to Water
Week of July 19 – July 25
by Whitney Lash-Marshall, Executive Director
There is something that draws us to moving water. We might not be able to explain it, but I see faces light up when I mention to new visitors that if they head down the Valley Trail they’ll arrive at a bridge that crosses a stream (even though they will have a steep walk back up!). When campers head off for a creek walk they can’t contain their excitement in anticipation of having cool water swirling around their feet and what they may find living in the water.
What draws you to water? Is it the sounds of it moving over rocks and logs, the sight of continuous repetitive replenishment of new water as it twists and turns along the streambed, or maybe it’s the sense of being connected to something that is bigger than yourself? Did you know that water flowing in the two streams that traverse Baltimore Woods – Baltimore Brook and Boulder Brook – ultimately flow to Nine Mile Creek, which travels over 20 miles connecting Otisco Lake and Onondaga Lake. Water connects our landscape, and all of us.
Next time you’re standing on a bridge or sitting along a stream, focus on one section of the water and see how far you can track it with your eyes as it flows downstream. Imagine how far it still has to go and all the other people and creatures that may experience that same unit of water as it moves across the community.
Week of July 12 – July 18
by Alexandra Grove, Environmental Educator
To some, hearing the word fungi evokes images of mushrooms standing tall along the forest floor or the delicious shitake burger they once ate. Sounds a little boring to be honest, but I can assure you, fungi are far from boring.
You may recall learning that some fungi possess hallucinogenic properties. Well, it is thought that a species of fungus that lives on rye called ergot may have influenced human history on multiple occasions. Ergot causes paranoia, hallucinations, spasms, and blood vessel constriction. Throughout the 1600s these symptoms were interpreted as bewitchment, which led to witch hunts across Europe and early America. In the 1740s, these symptoms were thought to be divine in nature. Ergot epidemics may have even started and ended wars!
The weird doesn’t stop there. While most fungi are decomposers, some are carnivorous. These meat-eating fungi consume nematodes. Nematodes are microscopic organisms that inhabit nearly every ecosystem. Some species of carnivorous fungi use sticky traps, others use toxins to stun their prey. A particularly interesting technique involves constricting lassos or nets made of fungal hyphae. No matter the method, these predatory fungi let their prey come to them.
The world of fungi can be as mundane as a mushroom sprouting from a log or as intriguing as causing major events in human history. This incredibly diverse group of organisms is certainly full of a wide range of shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. Never underestimate something that can parasitize ants and control their bodies!
Origins of a Conservationist
Week of July 5 – July 11
by Rand Michaels, Environmental Educator
As the first week of summer camp begins, I’m excited to think about all the adventures that lie ahead in the next eight weeks – adventures for the campers and for me. Each day will unfold, different than the one before it – with new appreciation for nature, new friendships, and maybe best of all for me, new conversations – a chance for me to teach, inspire, and to grow in my experience as an environmental educator. In the middle of one of our winter nature camp weeks, I was led by a group of fourth graders on a quest to find “The Log”. A few of the campers had discovered this site on their previous day of camp, (and were being drawn back by the excellent otter-sliding to be had there) while a few of the others, like me, were along for the ride. We spent the early afternoon trekking up and down the hills of the preserve until we at last discovered our destination. “The Log” was a massive fallen beech tree, its light gray, deeply cracked bark punctuated by the dark bracket fungi sprouting from its sides. It had fallen across a slope with enough room underneath for someone to just barely slide through.
The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying and perfecting the glorious otter-sliding slope that began just uphill of The Log. Before we left the area at the end of the day, I found a moment to talk with some of the campers about The Log’s origin story and the living beech tree it once was. Discussing with them the fungi growing on it, and the potential contributors to its demise- namely beech bark disease, caused by an invasive insect and fungus- was one of the highlights of the day for me. As we hiked back to the nature center, some of the campers pointed out other beech trees whose bark showed cracks distinctive to the disease and asked me questions like “why do trees get so many diseases?”. As I tried to field these questions, I considered one of the perennial questions I ask myself as an environmental educator. How do I balance encouraging people to enjoy the natural world with informing them about the threats that it faces?
As a nature center, we realize the precious opportunity that we have, especially during these weeks spent in the woods with campers, to inspire young people to grow into responsible stewards of the natural world. Questions like this, developed from firsthand experience in nature can lead eventually to working to conserve it- whether that means coming back to camp as a teen volunteer, planting native trees in partnership with conservation organizations, or any of the other ways that people come together to protect their environment. At Baltimore Woods we are grateful to have the opportunity to witness and support this development.
Favorite Trails of Baltimore Woods
Week of June 28 – July 4
by Whitney Lash-Marshall, Executive Director
Which is your favorite Baltimore Woods trail? There’s not an easy answer, even for our staff, since there is something special about each specific trail, but when votes were cast the Field to Forest trail came out on top. This trail is a special destination a bit further from the Interpretive Center that showcases older growth and newly restored forest, open fields, and a fun educational environment. Second most votes was a tie for the Boundary Trail, Valley Trail, and Faust Garden. The Boundary Trail is a favorite for leading us through a diversity of ecosystems to some favorite places on the preserve, including Boulder Brook, and the Valley Trail is loved for its dramatic views in every season and the diversity of animals and plants (including ferns) that you can observe on your way down (or up!). The Faust Garden gets the most attention for spring wildflowers, but it is also a favorite respite for quiet reflection as you enter this almost separate, special place. Other favorites include the Overlook Trail for the challenging hills and rewarding vistas and the Pioneer Trail for its unique view of the valley that you often have all to yourself to enjoy.
This week for a fun activity head over to Baltimore Woods and develop your own trail story. Choose a trail – either your favorite or one that is brand new – and see if you can decipher the story the trail is telling you.
- Was this space always forested or is it regenerating from a different history? (Older forest will have ‘hummocks and hollows’ on the ground vs. being flatter and have a higher diversity of sizes and species of trees vs. trees that are all the same diameter and height.)
- What might have made this trail more steep (or more flat) than other places here?
- What are the stories of the plants or animals that you are seeing as you walk? How did they get there?
- What is your story – are you running, walking, meditating, exploring? Find a spot that is particularly important to you where you can stand, listen, and wonder about the world around us.
Keep coming back and repeat until you’ve tried out all the trails!
Share your story! We’d love to hear your trail stories – you can write it down, take photos, or send us a video of you telling us your story. Email firstname.lastname@example.org – we look forward to hearing your favorites, too!
The Song of the Mourning Dove
Week of June 21 – June 27
by Rand Michaels, Environmental Educator
When a mourning dove coos, some people are reminded of mourning the loss of a loved one. One could even draw the conclusion that they are collectively lamenting the loss of their once-prosperous relatives, the passenger pigeons, whom they have replaced across the continent as forests have given way to towns and fields. But this is not what I think of. The song of the mourning dove brings to my mind the smiling faces of fourth graders, gathered close around a table, amazed by the power of that murmuring coo. .
In the Bright Ideas lesson that we teach as part of Nature in the City to fourth graders in Syracuse, we use the mourning dove’s song to illustrate the potential for sound energy to transform into mechanical energy. As students watch, the song is played from a speaker beneath a toy drum covered in sprinkles. Often, when the sprinkles jump through the air in an orchestrated ballet, the students jump back in surprise! Such a soft coo has this power! While we may forever refer to the bird as a mourning dove, for me its call brings no sadness. It is imbued with the wonder and awe of the children we get to serve in the city of Syracuse. It is tied up inextricably with their joy.
Rocks Have Stories to Tell
Week of June 14 – June 20
Guest blog by Guy Swenson, Geologist and Baltimore Woods Board Member
For a geologist Central New York is about sedimentary rocks. Limestone, dolostone, shale, and sandstone form the bedrock under us and are responsible for the unique waterfalls and gorges that we see in the state parks. These rocks tell us a story that extends millions of years into the past.
Around 400 million years ago (long before the dinosaurs roamed the earth) Central New York was under an ocean. Clay, silt, sand, and the shells of various sea life settled to the floor of the ocean. Today, rocks with fossil shells (limestone) tell us that these rocks were formed when the ocean was shallow. Rocks with silt and sand (shale and sandstone) were also formed in a shallow ocean, but in this case, rivers brought lots of silt and sand to the ocean. However, black organic-rich clay and silt (Marcellus Shale) were deposited when the ocean was deep. Over millions of years these various layers were deposited in the ocean one on top of another, younger layers on top of older layers. Then major geologic forces, plate tectonics, caused the Central New York area to be pushed up so that it is now above sea level. Erosion by glaciers and water have cut into the bedrock layers to expose them at the ground surface where we see them today.
The land at Baltimore Woods does not have exposed bedrock. From about 2 million years ago to about 6,000 years ago, glaciers covered Central New York. As these glaciers melted, they left lots of clay, silt, sand, and rocks on the ground surface. Baltimore Woods is all formed by this glacial debris. Most of the rocks at Baltimore Woods are local sedimentary rocks, but keep your eye out for red, green, speckled, or banded rocks. These are igneous and metamorphic rocks that were brought here from the Adirondacks or Canada by the glaciers.
- Visit a park with exposed bedrock such as Tinker Falls, Clark Reservation, Pratts Falls, Chittenango Falls, Filmore Glen, or the gorges and waterfalls around Ithaca and look at the layers of sedimentary rocks. Find the geology story of the park online.
- Find a rock on the ground and think about its history. Does it have a fossil shell in it showing it was made in an ocean? Was it brought here from far away by a glacier? Share your rock and fossil discoveries with us at email@example.com.
Week of June 7 – June 13
by Eliza Phillips, Naturalist
I have spent a lot of time hiking, paddling, and camping in many places, including around the Adirondack mountains. If you are like me, you may be familiar with a certain noise that can keep you awake and annoy you more than the root you are laying on under your sleeping bag can: the whine of a mosquito. Its high pitched song is well known to many and warns them of impending itchy bites. How about black flies? If you’ve ever been hiking or paddling in the North East in summer time you are already aware of these ferocious little insects. Their thick swarms have an impressive ability to find their way into your bug net and take a bite. Leaving behind bloody itchy bumps.
Those itchy bug bites can cause us to have negative thoughts about these annoying insects. But have you ever stopped to consider why they are here or why they are biting us? Mosquitoes and blackflies are so small and there are so many of them, are they actually important? Believe it or not, they are. Both of these flying pests are valuable food sources in their local food webs.
Both mosquito and black fly larvae live in the water. Before the larvae metamorphose into adults they may fall prey to other animals. Fish, like bass and bluegill, will eat the mosquito larvae in still pond waters. Trout feed on the blackfly larvae that thrive in cool, fast running streams. If the larvae survive the predators in the water, they will then change into adults and face more predators above the water’s surface. Birds, like tree swallows, and bats fly through the air catching as many as they can. A bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in just one hour!
In both bug species, only the females take a bite out of you — they need the extra protein to lay their eggs. The males mostly eat nectar. Therefore they are actually valuable pollinators. Although it is not proven, you might want to thank a blackfly for pollinating a special trailside treat: wild blueberries. According to folklore there seems to be a connection between the number of blackflies and the number of blueberries that grow on a plant. Male mosquitoes are also known for pollinating some orchids and goldenrod.While we all smush a few of these bugs when we catch them biting us, the truth is that if all of these bugs were eliminated, the ecosystem would change dramatically. So the next time you get bothered by one of these pesky insects take a moment to think of how they are also a benefit. Here’s a tip: if you no longer want to squish them, try wearing a bug net to avoid the female’s itchy bites.
Poisons and Potions
Week of May 31 – June 6
by Rand Michaels, Naturalist
It’s an herb, it’s a vine, it’s poison ivy! When you’re out on a hike this week, whether at The Woods, or anywhere else in nature- even your own backyard- there is a good chance you’ll come across the form-flipping fiend we call poison ivy. You can see this plant growing low to the ground, its herb form, or up a tree trunk in vine form. But how can you be sure it’s poison ivy? You may have heard the old adage: “leaves of three, leave it be,” and that’s a good start! But there are some other things you can look out for too.
The leaf on the end of the stem is typically larger than the two on either side of it, and all three are somewhat shiny. In spring, the leaves will have a red tinge to them, and in summer they turn dark green (picture 1 and 2). If it is growing on a tree, the vine is usually very hairy, resembling a furry snake slithering up a tree! If a plant has these characteristics, it’s definitely best to ‘leave it be’, since the oil covering the whole plant can cause a painful and itchy rash. There is a silver lining though, because a common neighbor to poison ivy is a bit more friendly!
Jewelweed, or touch-me-not often grows near poison ivy, and has lighter green leaves with wide, blunt teeth along their edges (picture 4). The flowers, appearing throughout summer, really are jewel-like– small, and brightly colored, orange or yellow and tubular. Even more amazing, the leaves of jewelweed contain compounds that can help with the itchy rash that poison ivy can cause! A potion right next to the poison, how could we ask for more than that?
Appreciating Nature in all its Forms
Week of May 24 – May 30
by Becky Wilson, Naturalist
I remember the first time I saw a dragonfly larvae when I was in college. I was totally creeped out, what was this funky looking creature? I remember turning to a colleague to ask if they knew, but they didn’t seem to be having the same reaction as I was. They explained that while they might look like scary fuzzy spiders, dragonfly larvae actually have some pretty amazing adaptations. Did you know they can detach their lower jaw, reaching out to grab their food as it swims by? Or that as a larvae they breathe through gills but once they have changed into an adult dragonfly, they develop lungs? I was amazed. What I first judged to be totally bizarre was now a fascinating creature to be in awe of!
Animals and plants that we think of as weird are often misunderstood. They are only doing what they need to to survive in what can be a pretty harsh environment. One of my favorite foods, Wild Ginger, has a pretty funky looking flower that emits a stinky odor to attract ground dwelling bugs like ants and slugs for pollination. I’m thankful for those bugs, without them we wouldn’t have ginger! Speaking of bugs, what about the bats? They are probably one of the most misunderstood animals in the world. What if I told you that one bat could eat up to 1,000 mosquitos in one hour? Don’t worry, they won’t fly into your hair, they are diving close to you to eat the bugs that were ready to eat you! Now there’s a good reason to show them a little appreciation. You can show your thanks to the bats by building them a home! https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Cover/Build-a-Bat-House
Nature can be downright strange but that is what makes it so special. You never know what you’ll find under that log or beneath the water. Getting outside to explore is a wonderful opportunity to step out of our comfort zones and to learn more about those things in nature that we have always just written off as too creepy. So next time you find yourself thinking “Nope, that is just too weird!” do some research or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may just change your mind on how amazing these living beings are!
The Call of Water
Week of May 17 – May 23
by Tom Meier, Naturalist
There is a river at the end of a red shale road in Pennsylvania. Standing in the water with my hands just touching the surface is the most peaceful experience I know. Likewise, there is a pond in the Adirondacks where I have spent weeks just staring at the water, letting the sounds and the sparkling sunlight wash through me.
I have always been called by water, maybe since the first time my dad took me fishing at that small farm pond. Every spring I travel to the Mojave Desert to visit long-time friends; we mostly look for birds in the rivers and scattered wetlands. Did you know that you really can smell water in the desert, like all those horses in old western movies? The air changes, the increased humidity fills your nose like the first warm day of spring.
We are all called by water, every living thing on the planet. It is the one thing that we all have in common, from the least ancient algae to the tallest trees and the birds that live in them. We all need water. Scientists are learning that even just being near water helps humans destress, increase creativity, and simply feel good.
Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, has written a book about this effect, called Blue Mind. And you can experience it for yourself, just go sit next to a stream with your hand lightly touching the surface, or visit a pond, or stare into a puddle on a rainy day. You’ll feel better.
Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It, talks of hearing voices in the sounds of moving water – family members long gone, friends, lovers. What do you hear when water calls you? Do you listen?
Have Fungi Caught Your Eye?
Week of May 10 – May 16
by Whitney Lash-Marshall, Environmental Educator
Think back to your last hike. Can you remember how many different types of fungi you saw? Would you believe that you probably passed dozens of examples as you walked through a Central New York forest? Many of these species of fungus are so small that we can’t see them with our naked eye – but they are there, doing important ecological work as decomposers and nutrient recyclers. The fungi that are most often apparent to us, those of the macro-world, are mushrooms. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of the fungus, which emerges above ground coming out of the leaf litter or sprouting from a tree trunk.
If you are like me, you probably have gone for many hikes where fungi were not at the top of the list of what you were looking for. For a long time I only noticed them when they were an isolated bright color on the forest floor, or maybe a shelf fungus growing out of a trunk of a tree at eye level as I walked past. But then a few years ago, I went on a guided hike with a mycologist (a scientist who specializes in the study of fungi). Now, I can’t help but search for fungi every time I’m out in the woods to see what new colors, shapes, and species there are to be discovered in this unique and strangely beautiful set of organisms.
While you can find different species of mushrooms year-round in Central New York, summer and fall tend to be when we see the highest diversity of varieties emerging. But the mushroom itself that we can see is only a small part of the story of what makes these fungi so unique. When you’re looking at a mushroom, most of the fungus itself is actually underground or embedded within the tree stump or trunk from which it’s growing. The mushroom itself is often likened to the fruit of a plant – but instead of seeds, mushrooms release millions of tiny spores that are transmitted by air, by water, or by an animal. If the spore lands on a suitable surface, such as a fallen tree, the spore will germinate and put out microscopic, thread-like ‘roots’ called hyphae – which create a web of strands that is called the mycelium. This is actually the largest part of the mushroom and the true ‘body’ of the fungus. The mushroom that we ultimately see with our eyes above ground or growing on a tree is only temporary – it’s the reproductive structure that is highly effective at spreading spores so the cycle can begin again.
Fungi are one of the groups of organisms that we just don’t know a lot about – it was only 51 years ago that fungi was separated from plants as their own Kingdom. Even today the U.S. Forest Service estimates we have only really discovered and studied about 5% of what could be over 2 million different species out there! So next time you see a mushroom, take a moment to really look at it up close. If you can, try to peek under the cap to see the different colors and patterns of the gills underneath. Once you start looking for the unique things about fungi, I bet that -like me – you’ll have a whole new appreciation for these decomposers and won’t want to stop exploring!
April Showers Bring May…Babies!
Week of May 3 – May 9
by Alexandra Grove, Environmental Educator
April showers have drenched the landscape and May flowers emerge from the Earth. Spring has officially sprung and Mother’s Day is drawing near. It is special that Mother’s Day is in the spring because this time of year is all about new life. Birds hurriedly gather nest materials and foxes prepare their dens. They will soon become mothers themselves. These animal moms will periodically leave the nest or den to search for food and water. They know the babies will be safe there until they return.
This is a phenomenon that many of us are unaccustomed to. Animal mothers must care for their young in a much different way than we do, but their instincts are sharp. They know how to camouflage their dens and how long they can spend away from the nest. Mothers rarely venture far from the hungry calls of their babies. And like our mothers, they teach their babies what they need to know in order to survive.
You may come across a fawn on its own in the forest or catch a glimpse of raccoon kits playing without their mother’s watchful eye. Have these babies been abandoned? I can assure you that in most cases, they have not. Their lonely appearance makes it tempting to help, but let’s leave them to the professionals — their mothers.
Your first instinct upon finding a baby animal should be to leave it alone. However, there are special situations in which you may need to interfere. For more information on what to do if you find an orphaned or injured animal, visit this link to an article by the Humane Society: https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/found-orphaned-or-injured-baby-wild-animal
Soon we’ll be hearing the chirps of hungry baby birds up in their nests and see mother birds returning to feed them. We are witnessing the life cycle of a bird in real-time. What did the baby bird look like before it started calling out for food and what will it look like next? Follow this link for inspiration on a bird life cycle craft you can do with your little one to explore life cycles. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/186758715770255055/
Friends with Flowers
Week of April 26 – May 2
by Rand Michaels, Environmental Educator
We often hear about the importance of pollinators, like our bumblebees and butterflies. Today though, I want to take a look at a friendly insect who is a little less charismatic- but no less valuable!
Our friend the ant plays a critical role in Eastern forests, often traipsing right under our feet, busily attending to its work. Ants have many different tasks to complete, but there’s one that is bearing its beautiful fruits right now out in the woods! Some of the wildflowers bursting forth in the forest were planted by these ants!
The white blooms of bloodroot, the wild ginger flowers, and trilliums all have these tiny benefactors to thank. Their seeds make a nutritious, oily glob for the ants called an eliasome, which the ants are happy to take back to their nest and munch on. After dinner, the ants discard the seed into their underground waste pile, which is full of nutrients ready and waiting for the seed to take up.
This mutualism between the ants and flowers is called myrmecochory, from the Greek root myrmex, which refers to ants. It is just one of the wonderful things happening out in the woods this season, and one for which I’m truly grateful!
I challenge all of us to be like the ants this spring and plant for ourselves some native wildflowers, in our garden or near our homes. These will provide food for many of the other native insects that keep our ecosystems running, and can often give a smile to us humans as well!
Fifty years of Earth Day
Week of April 19 – April 25
by Emily Overstrom, Environmental Educator
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” This remarkable quote is from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a book that many would say started the modern environmental movement and planted the seed for the first Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970. Earth Day has a humble beginning as a grassroots movement founded by Gaylord Nelson. The intentions of the first Earth Day were to bring national attention to the environmental degradation happening at the time. People across the country were invited to collaborate with their local communities to address the environmental issues they were facing and to help take care of this wonderful place we call home.
This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with over a billion people across the world participating. This is the perfect time to remember the roots of Earth Day and act locally in your community. Get to know the nature near you because even though we are celebrating apart this year, we can appreciate the one thing that connects us all, the Earth.
Check out Earthday.org to learn more about the history of Earth Day and how you can participate!
For at-home Earth Day activities, click here!
Of Tiny Mighty Kinglets
Week of April 12 – April 18
by Tom Meier, Camp Director
It is snowing today. The patch of Norway spruce in a neighbor’s yard is full of birds seeking shelter and whatever cold insects they can find. One bird, a tiny ball of olive feathers and grit doesn’t seem to mind at all. She is darting among the branches, finding food between gusts of wind.
Small enough to make a chickadee look big, this is a kinglet. The ruby-crowned kinglet is one of the earliest migrating songbirds in spring, heading to Canada for the summer and one of the last to leave in fall. We see them in Central New York only during migration. The golden-crowned kinglet is a year-round resident from Tennessee north through Canada, usually found in tall conifers.
I’ve always admired these pretty little birds for their fortitude. The spunky ruby-crowned seems so eager to keep the seasons moving, almost pulling spring north in the wake of its wings. Life moves forward, even when an early spring snow makes it seem like everything has stopped. It has not.
To learn more about kinglets, visit All About Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Join the legion of citizen-science bird watchers helping with bird research and conservation all over the world by visiting eBird.org.
Week of April 6 – April 11
by Grace Carlic, Environmental Educator
A striking color palette is beginning to emerge amidst the browns and grays that are painting our springtime landscape. Variations of yellow, red, white, and sprays of green are now bursting forth in the forest. The flowers and stems are signaling a change in the seasons and a time for renewal.
Take a walk on the Field to Forest trail and spy the brilliant scarlet cup fungus — a low lying mushroom a mere inch or two off the ground. It is distinctive with its red-hatted spring debut. Go for a stroll along the Valley Trail and catch a glimpse of seersucker sedge donning blackish-brown brush-like blooms, nestled among a backdrop of bright green leaves. Along the Harrison Loop, broadleaf waterleaf is delicately painted with white drops reminiscent of dew. The forest is coming alive, almost vibrating with energy, and the plants are wearing their Sunday best for the show.
Around the home, too, plants are poking through the ground with forthright energy. Flowers such as the lilac-hued crocus are emerging and reminding the world that they are first in line for the warmth of the springtime sun.
As plants sprout out of the ground, our hands dig in. Believe it or not, garden season will be well underway in a matter of weeks. What better way to pay homage to the season than to plant native plants? Native plants are indigenous to a geographic area and are natural landscaping all-stars. Plants native to an area require little to no fertilizer and pesticides, need less water, and provide food and shelter for wildlife. When planning out your garden, check out Central New York’s native plant society, Habitat Gardening in Central New York. More information on their organization and native plants can be found by clicking here.
Become a botanist! Learn about the tools botanists use and set up your own lab station. These botanical activities for kids developed by the California Native Plant Society will keeping your scientific mind growing!