Wednesday, November 16, 2011

STOP...It's Beaver Time!

Pond dipping is absolutely one of my favorite things to do with students while they are staying at the CVEEC for our residential program. When the experience doesn't turn into a "I can catch more tadpoles than you!" competition, kids can find all kinds of amazing creepy crawlies including hellgrammites, damselfly nymphs, predaceous diving beetles, water scorpions, dragonfly nymphs, backswimmers, leeches and so much more! My favorite pond on campus is called Meadowedge Pond. It happens to be my favorite because a beaver recently dammed the drainage pipe and allowed water to raise past the cattails, allowing easier access to critters. I always take my time to explain to the children the story of the handy beaver when we are pond dipping because it is great example of how amazing wildlife is.

The beaver that now lives at Meadowedge Pond actually moved from Redwing Pond a few months ago and a few very intelligent Rangers here at the CVEEC think that the old pond was too shallow for its liking. After moving down to the very spacious Meadowedge Pond, the beaver began an epic battle with the man in charge of maintenance here at the center. The sound of running water that ran into the drainage pipe used to maintain the pond's shallow level, triggered the beaver's instinct to build a dam. Every time the pipe got dammed, our maintenance man would unclog it so the trail at one end of the pond wouldn't flood. This battle continued for a few weeks until the beaver finally won! The maintenance guy stopped undamming the drainage pipe which led to water overflowing one side of the pond. The new sound of running water triggered something amazing to happen on campus: A BEAVER DAM!

As you can imagine, this excited all of us interns because we had proof to the kids that there was actually a beaver in the pond! From this moment on, there was a secret competition between all CVEEC employees to catch an actual glimpse of the elusive beaver. One day during a class a few weeks ago, I had just gotten done telling the beaver story to my students when one said "Hey, is that the beaver?". I definitely had my doubts before I looked because beavers are rarely out during the day as they are crepuscular, or active during dawn and dusk. Believe it or not, the student was right and I still claim the first daytime beaver sighting to this day!

During the next week, after daylight savings time allowed dawn to come a little earlier, particularly during intern break time, Ranger Phil was bragging to some of the us that he had seen the beaver during one of his classes just minutes before. Two of my fellow interns and I, Julia and Julia, decided we would one up him and not only see the beaver, but see it closer than Ranger Phil did. And thus, our adventure began.

When we first got to the pond, there was absolutely no action. We waited for a few minutes until one of the Julia's noticed something moving across the was the beaver!! As soon as she noticed the beaver, it began swimming around the edge of the pond directly towards us. I creeped along the the side close to where it was swimming and snapped this picture:

Just as I thought it was as close as it would get, the beaver continued to swim around the pond even closer to where we had been sitting originally. When the beaver was only two feet in front of us, it noticed we were there and hid in the cattails along the edge of the pond. In that location it actually had a two minute staring contest with one of the Julias! After finally getting the nerve to turn and swim away, it swam entirely out of site. With little hope of seeing the beaver again, we turned our sites to finding its lodge.

Within just five minutes we found its beautifully constructed home. The only problem was that it was back in the woods along a deer trail bordered with prickly multiflora rose. Without hesitation, I took off into the briars with little fear of getting scratched apart because I had my eye on the prize. At the lodge, I was to capture some great pictures! This great beaver story is another one of the fun examples of how amazing it is to be able to work in the great outdoors!

The beaver lodge in all its glory.

A beaver tree AKA a tree that a beaver chewed!

My favorite find; a beaver footprint!

Does anyone know what this might be?
It was in the mud at the beaver lodge, but I haven't been able to identify it!
Please, please help me out!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Deer that Licked My Coffee Mug

The first frost at the CVEEC was last weekend and, after arriving at the center bright and early, I was determined to get some pictures of the beautiful fall leaves outlined with miniature icicles. As I was bent down, hunched over the little collection of leaves pictured below, I heard one of my fellow interns say "Uhm......Karie?!" in quite an urgent and panicked tone.

When I looked up, I noticed that a yearling buck with one spike was walking in a quite determined fashion directly towards me and was only a few feet away! In my moment of panic, as I'm not normally approached by deer, I left my coffee mug by the small pile of leaves and ran behind the other interns in the parking lot. The young buck no longer seemed interested in me, but was much more intrigued by the delicious aroma seeping from my coffee mug. He must have been a fan of Starbucks Breakfast Blend, my coffee of choice, because he stuck out his big deer tongue and licked my coffee mug from bottom to top! I was so surprised, and sad that he was eliminating my caffeine fix for the morning, that I squealed. He immediately turned and ran, but I was able to snap a picture before he could get too far!

The Culprit
White-tailed Deer--Odocoileus virginianus

In honor of the spike horn that licked my coffee that fateful day, I'm going to share a few pieces of evidence I have found of deer around the CVEEC. The picture on the bottom left is a buck rub that I found along a trail while hiking with some kids during class. These are always exciting to find as they mean the deer mating season, or the rut, is getting closer! Male deer often rub trees with their antlers in response to growing testosterone levels during mating season. As their testosterone levels rise, aggression starts to build and the of rubbing trees helps get that aggression out as well as strengthen neck muscles. Strong neck muscles are important both visually and physically during mating season. These buck rubs are also important in hierarchy and competition between males because dominant males leave a stronger scent on the rub by way of rubbing a gland located on their forehead on the tree. The picture on the right is two deer tracks that some of my students found as we were hiking along a trail on CVEEC property. After looking closely at the tracks, we determined the deer was headed off to the right of the frame.

White-tailed Deer Buck Rub White-tailed Deer Tracks

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Great Day for Diversity

This morning I headed out on the trail with an enthusiastic group of fifteen 5th graders from Akron Public Schools. Our mission for the day was to discover as much biodiversity in the forest along the Oak Hill Trail as we could! It is important to note that the last time I explored this exact section of forest I found only a ground beetle and a few acorns that squirrels had munched on. Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged as to what we might find.

After a quick run down of expectations, I set the kids loose with their discovery tools which quite basically consisted of their hands and a container. Within the first five minutes I knew I was in luck because I heard a very shrill AHHHHHHH! If you are not familiar with working around children who haven't spent much time exploring in the woods, let me translate for you: "Karie, come quick! I found something really cool!" I rushed over and was surprised at how cool their discovery really was. Take a look for yourself...

That's right, the students found a HUGE Jefferson's salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) under the very first log they rolled over which is extremely rare for this time of year! Normally these amazing creatures are found roaming around after the snow has melted in early spring, definitely not in October. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources even says that they are very illusive, secretive, and rarely seen which made this discovery even more exciting.

That initial discovery most definitely got the kids excited which is so great to see. Before I knew it kids were covered in mud and my collection bucket was full of great finds! To the
right you'll see three of those finds that decided to cuddle together while in their temporary jail cell. On the left of the picture is the Jefferson's salamander that the students affectionately called "Jeff" the rest of the class, in the center is a red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus, and to the right is an American Toad (Bufo americanus). These are just a few of the many, many, great finds that an excited group of 5th graders from Akron Public Schools discovered on a beautiful fall day in the CVNP. If you like what you saw, my suggestion for you is to get out into a forest close to you and turn over as many logs and rocks as you can see. You never know what you'll find!

*All animals were returned to their homes promptly after our discovery session was complete!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Life is Good!

If you ask me, life doesn't get much better than waking up each day knowing you are going to a job where you have the opportunity to do what you love in a beautiful national park! Lucky me!

At this point, I am two months into an internship with the Conservancy for the Cuyahoga Valley National Park where I get to teach environmental education in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park! The CVEEC (Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center) provides both residential and day programming for 5th through 8th graders and it is such amazing place to work.

Here are some great pictures I have captured during my short time at the CVEEC!

This little guy (or girl) was found along a path this September at the EEC. One of the kids actually ran up to me with it on their hand and shoved it in my face asking in an excited voice "What is this? Someone told me you would know!" It's always amazing to see kids who were afraid to go out on a hike at the beginning of the week carrying around creepy crawlies with their bare hands by the end of the week!
Cecropia Moth Caterpillar- Hyalophora cecropia
Fun Fact: This becomes North America's largest native moth after it goes through metamorphosis!
Want more info on the Cecropia Moth?

During our two weeks of training at the EEC, my fellow interns and I discovered this beautiful spider in the narrow leafed cattails along the edge of a pond on campus. Throughout our two weeks we watched her get fatter and fatter as she caught more prey and therefore continuously repaired her web. We affectionately called her "Shelob" from The Lord of the Rings movies because she was so huge! What a great experience it was for kids to see her catch insects and wrap them right before their very eyes!
Common Garden Spider- Argiope aurantia
Fun Fact: The white part on the spider's web is called the stabilimentum. Scientists aren't positive as to what purpose it serves!
Want more info on the Common Garden Spider?

Stay tuned for more stories from the EEC!