Sunday, March 13, 2011

Winter 2011 SKIP - Maple Syrup!

It was a sweet time at Murphys Point on Sunday as we gathered for our last program of the Winter 2011 Super Kids In Parks session.

Volunteer extraordinaire Alida Lemieux (who is an interpreter at Murphys Point in the summer) joined us again and led a great program all about "the sap that binds us." We started off with a hike along the Lally Trail where we used our tree-identification skills from the week before to pick out some sugar maple trees. Alida taught us a trick to identifying the sugar maple leaf - the lobes are "U" shaped (instead of "V" shaped) and the word "sugar" has a "U" in it. She then explained, using a tree volunteer, how the sap in the tree carries nutrients from its roots to its buds, and extra sugar in the sap works as an antifreeze as winter changes to spring - protecting the tree.

At the next stop we learned how many different creatures use the sap produced in maple trees to survive. One of these creatures is a woodpecker called the yellow-bellied sapsucker. It has - you guessed it - a yellowish belly and it likes - you guessed it - to suck the sap out of trees. The holes it makes attract insects, which draw in other creatures, too, forming part of the food chain. We also had the chance to see a hole made by the pilleated woodpecker, which is a much larger bird.

The next stop featured signs that a person had been tapping a tree. It was a single hole, not too deep, but very round - possibly done using a drill.

We then reached Black Creek, where we took a moment to scope out the beaver lodge, muskrat push-ups and various tracks. Alida and Steph had observed an otter on the ice earlier in the afternoon, but it was nowhere to be seen when the group arrived. A couple of big, soaring birds made an appearance in the distance, though!

Alida then showed us how, in theory, one would tap a tree using an old-fashioned wood auger, spiles and sap buckets. We discussed how the lids help to keep things out of the buckets, and how modern syrup operations have different equipment that removes unwanted items from the sap, such as moths and other bugs. Some of our participants are very knowledgeable about maple syrup production!

We then played a game that demonstrated sugar energy transfer by passing sugar around to show how each part of the food chain is affected by sugar maple sap at its start - with birds, insects, cats, fishers and fungus all playing a role. It truly is the sap that binds us!

The last stop on the hike featured a special guest! A visitor from the 1870s talked a bit about how hard families worked to produce maple syrup on family homesteads. She said she had to carry buckets of sap to the big outdoor iron kettle they used to boil the sap. She explained that often they would boil it past the syrup stage and into sugar, which stored more easily and could be sold at markets in Perth. She also told us about a couple of tricks to use when boiling the sap that help to keep it controlled and to remove unwanted particles.

We then made our way back to the drive shed to play some games. The first was a relay. Each team had to carry a small container of "sap" from one bucket to a pot as fast as possible. Emptying the first bucket fastest didn't necessarily mean that team won - there were obstacles to overcome (such as a squirrel in the kettle or horses running out of control and dumping the sap wagon). The team with the most "sap" won!

The second game was a human chain to represent a pipeline for sap collection. The kids were the links in the chain and had to pass a ball hand to hand until they reached the end of the line.

At last it was snack time, which featured dill pickles and crackers to counter the sweetness of taffy on snow (yum!) boiled up by Skipper Jane.

A huge thank you to Alida for travelling all the way back to Murphys Point to lead another great program for us, and to our volunteers Jane Irwin, Pat Batchelor and Stephanie Gray.

We had a terrific time with our SKIP kids this session. Stay tuned for news about the Spring session - to be announced.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Winter 2011 SKIP - Trees and Snowshoeing

Our SKIP organizers put in an order with Mother Nature for a little snow for last Sunday so that we could do our snowshoeing program - and did she ever deliver! (Please note that the organizers are now asking for spring-like weather that is more suitable for this Sunday's maple syrup program....)

This week was another busy session for our SKIP kids. Led by Jeff Ward of the Lanark Stewardship Council and Sarah O'Grady of Mississippi Valley Conservation (which generously loaned us snowshoes), we divided into two groups and switched activities partway through.

One group stayed with Jeff in the drive shed to get some pointers on identifying trees in winter. Naturally, we can often identify deciduous trees by their leaves, so how do we do it in winter? Jeff showed us some tricks pertaining to the shape of a tree's crown, whether branches and buds are alternating or not, the colour of the branches and bark, and the texture of the bark. He had samples of logs and demonstrated the different textures and features of each tree.

The next step was to put this into practice, so we headed down the Lally Trail where Jeff and volunteer Judy Buehler had set up a relay game. Kids had to race each other to retrieve twig samples of various species of trees based on what they had learned. We discovered a bunch of neat things about different species.

Next the kids were given paper and crayons and did bark rubbings that they could take home. Some of the patterns were pretty neat!

While all this was happening, the alternate group was up at the parking lot getting ready for a snowshoeing trek. Sarah explained how various animals, such as hares, are naturally equipped to be able to travel easily over snow - and how some, such as deer, are not. She also discussed the origins of snowshoeing and the different types of shoes that are out there.

Next we strapped on a set of snowshoes and, after laying the ground rules for safe travel, we set off through the field and down part of the other end of the Lally Trail to experience the ease of travelling over the recent thick pile of snow. Along the way Sarah and volunteer Linda McLaren pointed out various animal tracks and features of the trail - a great way to explore and hike in winter!

Next everyone returned to the drive shed for a great snack of veggies and popcorn balls provided by our Skipper, Judy Fletcher. Around that time we had a very special guest appearance by the resident porcupine. He trundled across the snow and climbed up the big white pine tree behind the homestead - quite a show! We learned that porcupines do not actually throw their needles. Oh, and we should also remember that the easy way to recognize a white pine tree is by its needle clusters - five needles representing the five letters in WHITE.

Big thanks go out to Jeff and Sarah (and MVC) for their awesome program, along with volunteers Judy F., Judy B., Steph Linda and Steph. Next week is the last program in the winter session - and it promises to be a sweet one at the Lally Homestead!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Winter 2011 SKIP - Week 4 (Birding)

Last week we focused on water, this week we took to the skies! It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon for a program on birds.

Our volunteer naturalist Heather Lunn led a fantastic program, which started with the kids dividing into two groups and visiting four different bird-related stations. Heather's station dealt with identifying birds in winter. She brought several pictures and guides and situated the group in some edge habitat (where the field meets the edge of the forest) to talk about the four main birds that stay at Murphys Point in winter: ruffed grouse, great horned owl, downy woodpecker and black-capped chickadee. She played bird calls and talked about other ways to identify them, such as visual cues.

Volunteer Judy Buehler, another outdoor enthusiast and birder, conducted the next station, which focused on backyard bird feeding. Several different feeders were set up in the big pine tree behind the Lally Homestead. Judy showed the group different food for birds, such as suet and seeds, and discussed the best ways to feed birds in the backyard - from favourite foods to good locations. Then the kids made Cheerio-bird-feeding necklaces that they could take home and hang on a tree for the birds.

Volunteer Pat Batchelor led the group on a short hike along the Lally Trail to discuss winter homes and habitats for birds. First they discussed good homes for birds that stay in winter and demonstrated different bird boxes. Each participant received a map of the Lally Trail with a clipboard and stickers. As they went along the trail they identified good homes and food sources for birds, and marked them on the map with the stickers.

The last station was led by Steph Gray and Linda McLaren and consisted of a winter survival game in the field. After a discussion about what birds need to survive in winter (food, water and shelter), one participant was designated to be a great horned owl and the rest were red cardinals. The cardinals had to collect a scoop of seeds from a bucket at one end of the field and deliver it "home" to an empty bucket, then do the same with a scoop of water and a tree branch to represent shelter. Anyone who collected all three items without being tagged was a true survivor!

The grand finale took place in the homestead with special guests Dwayne Struthers and Garnet Baker from the Leeds County Stewardship Council, along with Jeff Ward from the Lanark County Stewardship Council. Dwayne and Garnet led a session on bluebird box building, and came with kits for the kids to use so that they could each assemble a box to take home!

The kits contained pre-cut wood and pre-drilled holes, and the participants had the chance to line everything up and use a screwdriver to put everything together. Each box is made so that one side that swings open so the box can be cleaned out each year. The boxes should be fastened to a post (ideally steel so predators can't climb up) at least one metre above the ground. Dwayne and Garnet explained that not every box will attract a bluebird, but they should attract some kind of bird, such as swallows. An installation and care sheet will be provided to the kids with their workbook pages at the end of the program.

While the participants worked on the boxes they nibbled on a delicious snack provided by Skipper Linda McLaren - apples, juice and "seedy" cookies.

A huge thank you to Dwayne and Garnet for providing their skills, expertise and supplies for the bluebird boxes; to Heather for leading this week's program and to all of our program volunteers: Linda, Pat, Judy and Steph. Next week we look forward to communing with the trees - possibly on snowshoes!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winter 2011 SKIP - Week 3 (Fish and Ice Fishing)

Wow - what a jam-packed afternoon!

With the weather taking a turn last week and the warm spell and rain leaving top water on area waterways, our SKIP crew decided to play it safe and change our original ice-fishing program to a more land-based games afternoon instead. Luckily, though, things cooled and got downright frigid on Saturday, so when our special guests Conservation Officer Mike Dubé and Deputy-Conservation Officer Curtis Thompson (also Murphys Point Acting Superintendent) tested conditions on Sunday morning, we were able to compromise and add a little bit of ice fishing after all!

This week we met at the park office area and started off by dividing our SKIP kids (parents and siblings were invited to this program, too, and we thank all who stayed) into four teams and rotated around four fish-themed stations.

Heather engaged the kids in a lively rounds of Fish Habitat Tag, where the "fish" kids had to collect three coloured spoons representing food, clean water and sunshine/oxygen - all important things for fish survival. One player was "it" and represented a predator (such as an osprey) or disease or pollution and tried to tag the fishies before they got back to home base.

At the next station, Beth helped each participant to strap on a pair of snowshoes and then they hiked up a short hill to retrieve puzzle pieces. The groups worked as a team to assemble two fish puzzles, and then they had to identify the fish from a chart showing all Ontario species.

Tobi conducted a fishing game at the next station. The kids took turns wearing a blindfold and the group worked as a team (a chorus of voices!) to guide each person toward a bucket filled with fish cards. Then they had to come back and determine what species they got. If they caught one that was out of season (such as large- or smallmouth bass), it had to go back to the bucket.

The last station was a memory hike led by Linda. The kids travelled along a short loop trail and looked for big fish cards hanging from trees. The cards were labelled and the kids had to remember all seven species when they reached the end of the hike.

Then we headed for Loon Lake, where Mike and Curtis awaited. They started with helpful information about ice safety, including thickness and safety equipment.
They demonstrated using a power auger to drill a hole and we all got to see the thickness of the ice and observed the various colours - which represent the type of ice and its strength. The big message from Mike and Curtis is that kids should never go out on the ice without an adult making sure it's safe.

They also reiterated that there are seasons for fish and sometimes certain species can't be kept at certain times. This weekend was a special one for fishing in Ontario because it is Family Fun Fishing Weekend, which means everyone can fish without a licence through to the holiday Monday! The rest of the time adults ages 18 and up need a licence.

Mike and Curtis had drilled several holes in order to demonstrate the different types of equipment you can use when ice fishing. This included everything from the low-tech stick with fishing line attached to a tip-up featuring a snazzy flag and rod and reel sets with jigs - not to mention fish finding equipment that showed us when a fish was about to nibble on the bait!
Then they showed us some of the specimens they had caught, including several perch. Mike pointed out the features of a good-sized female perch carrying eggs.

Everyone had a chance to try the rod for a couple of minutes and check out the action on the fish finder. We hope next year the weather will co-operate so we can plan for an full program of fishing.

Then we headed back to the chalet where Skipper Pat had prepared a wonderful fish-themed snack: fish-shaped cookies and crackers (with a gummy worm treat - bait, you know!) and hot chocolate and juice. Everyone got to take home a "loot" bag made up of fishing bait and tackle generously donated by Canadian Tire in Perth - a huge thank you to them!

Big thanks go out to everyone involved in the program this week: Conservation Officer Mike Dubé and Deputy-Conservation Officer Curtis Thompson; Park Naturalist Tobi Kiesewalter and volunteers Stephanie Gray, Pat Batchelor, Beth Peterkin, Linda McLaren and Heather Lunn. Also thanks to Jeff Ward (Stewardship Council) who helped to coordinate things, and to Trevor Deachman at Canadian Tire, as well as to Wendell Crosbie and the Lanark and District Fish and Game Club for their generous donation toward ice-fishing equipment used in today's program, which will be retained for future years.

Great day, everyone!