Guest Blogger - Lisa Levez from The Earth is Hiring

Our first monthly Earth Morning with Red-tailed Hawk Forest students took place on Monday, September 25th. Outdoor Observations and Our Five Senses was our theme.

Beautiful and sunny, it was difficult to believe that it was fall. We checked out a visiting woolly bear caterpillar (found frequently in fall). Unlike most other caterpillars woolly bears hibernate as a caterpillar under leaves or ground cover – and they can freeze and survive! They form their cocoons in spring and turn into the Isabella Tiger Moth. The ‘bear’ turns into a ‘tiger’!

Our wild pick of the session was the snapping turtle. Snapping turtle (designated a species At Risk, since 2009, of Special Concern) hatchlings are around and visible now. Please be cautious not to drive over them or any snakes that are migrating to their wintering grounds this fall. Threats to snapping turtles include habitat loss, late reproductive maturity and road collisions. Many snapping turtles live up to 70 years and some are believed to reach over 100 years! You can help as a Citizen Scientist by reporting your sightings of all reptiles (snakes, lizards and turtles) and amphibians (frogs and salamanders) using the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. Data collected helps to make decisions like banning the snapping turtle hunt – which only happened this past year in Ontario! You may find out more about rare plants and animals in Ontario and reporting them here: Report Rare Plants and Animals

Before we left to play Nature Bingo, we already observed several crows, a blue jay at the bird feeder, a chipmunk and could hear the buzzy sound of the cicadas – which many students already were able to identify! The group's nature knowledge was very inspiring! While playing Nature Bingo, along our forested route, we made some exciting discoveries – like giant puffballs, wild basil, a red-breasted nuthatch, sweet fern ... one student asked if sweet fern is a ‘fern’ plant and it is not a true fern but a shrub with fern-like leaves. When rubbed together leaves give off a sweet smell. North American Indigenous peoples used sweet fern to cure poison ivy. We remembered how to identify poison ivy also – as it is common in our region.

Along the Nature Bingo walk, we stopped to do some fall colour matching and textured some different types of tree species. We were delighted to find some very tiny silk worms – there were so many - no more than a few millimeters long! We made a stop in the red cedar forest and discovered a red-breasted nuthatch – which responded to our call recording – and came in to check us out.

Back in the apple orchard, we empowered our ‘owl eyes’, ‘fox nose’, ‘deer ears’ and ‘snake skin’, with face-paint; we were ready to use our high-powered senses in play. Games included ‘Learning to Look and Looking to See’ with our ‘owl eyes’; and ‘Feel, Predict and Peek’ with our sensitive ‘snake skins’. We smelled and identified colours of aromatic flowers and plants with our ‘fox noses’ (e.g. yellow sweet clover, yarrow, wild carrot root, pine and cedar).

In the apple orchard, we read ‘Tap the Magic Tree’ – about an apple tree through the seasons by Christie Matheson. We learned how trees take in the air we breathe out (carbon dioxide) to produce the fresh air we breathe (oxygen) and finished with a gratitude rock meditation.

Red-tailed hawk students were asking great questions throughout the session – a huge part of observing our natural world and learning how to live in harmony with it. If you discover something you have questions about – you can ask a Naturalist with Ontario Parks! Ask a Naturalist

Looking forward to our next monthly Earth Morning on Tuesday, October 9th to discover more about Project Feederwatch and local backyard and winter birds.