Has it gotten to the point that when you do connect with Mother Nature it seems like an awkward hug? It’s been said time and time again that we’re better off taking a step away from technology to reconnect with Mother Nature as a regular part of our daily lives.
The benefits of establishing a relationship with Mother Nature are tremendous. Kids will grow more confident and be better critical thinkers when they are trusted to play outside and explore, their vocabulary will increase exponentially once they’re not staring at a television set for more than two hours a day, Americans of all ages will not be as obese or depressed if we get off the couch and get outside. But, as we know from the countless authors that have documented the benefits to getting outside and into nature (Louv, Ratey, Sampson) there are also significant challenges. Isn’t that always the case when one is reconnecting with a long-lost family member?
There are so many reasons not to bother. I hear quite often that, actually no – strike that … I find myself saying these things all too often … “The modern suburbs are designed with cars in mind.” “It’s a different world than when I was a kid and there is increased risks with having your children wander off.” “I live somewhere that is quite different ecologically than where I grew up and I am scared of the unknown.” “I work full-time outside of the house and the weekends are fairly structured.” National Wildlife Federation has even been posting recently how “we are a nation of people who are afraid of the outdoors.” But, the authors I mentioned above aren’t pulling this out of thin air and aren’t specifically talking about the importance of nature’s impacts on children.
Who am I kidding though? Like any relationship … reconnecting cannot be forced. However, it is going to take initiative on our part as parents. I plan to do it with lots of baby steps. If you, the reader of this post, are inspired to get outside and let go more there is a high likelihood that curious little minds will follow. And, in an effort to spark some motivation here is a listing of some fun ways to wander through a favorite secluded spot.
What are some of your challenges in getting outside and wandering aimlessly? Where are your favorite spots to wander?
Eight citizen science projects for your day at the beach (one for every day of your beach week + a bonus)
Do you have one (or several!) of those kids just itching to be future marine scientists? It’s time to take the beach day up one more notch. Here are some citizen science projects that will definitely be lots of fun for the whole family. Trust me … they’re free and easy!
Field Photo: The Field Photo App allows you take photos during your trips to the beach (or even field trips) and geotag them and add metadata and field notes to the photos. The field photos are then uploaded where people share, visualize and archive field photos that document land use and land cover change, flood, drought, fire, and so on.
Great Eggcase Hunt Project: The Great Eggcase Hunt aims to get as many people as possible hunting for eggcases that have either been washed ashore (or are found by divers and snorkelers underwater). The empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) are an easily accessible source of information on the whereabouts of potential nursery grounds and will provide the Trust with a better understanding of species abundance and distribution. While it originated in the UK over a decade ago, The Shark Trust has been collecting data in the US since 2003.
Jellywatch: Have you seen a jellyfish, red tide, a squid, or other unusual marine life recently? If so, tell them about it! Marine biologists need your help to develop a better understanding of the ocean. You can help us even more by submitting a picture of what you saw!
Osprey Watch: OspreyWatch is a global community of observers focused on documenting breeding osprey. There is no charge to participate and we welcome new volunteers to the program.
Ringed-Billed Gulls: In 2013, researchers from MIT and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation started using the same scheme as the project originators in Canada using blue or red plastic bands and 3 codes to band ring-billed sea gulls. Nearly 700 birds have been marked.
If you observed one of these banded gulls, you can report your sighting using an online form.
Secchi Dip-In: The Secchi Dip-In is a demonstration of the potential of volunteers to monitor and gather environmentally important information on our lakes, rivers and estuaries. The concept of the Dip-In is simple: individuals in volunteer monitoring programs take a transparency measurement on one day during the month of July (but, they accept data after the deadline as well).
Wildlife Health Event Reporter: The Wildlife Health Event Reporter allows you to observe and record events that may identify important changes in the environment. It’s an experimental tool that hopes to harness the power of the many eyes of the public to better detect these changes.
Download the pdf here. I’ll post the answers next Monday. First person to comment with the correct answers (here or on Facebook) I’ll send a copy of the Smithsonian’s Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (Flexibound).
Also, if I’ve missed a state with a marine mammal “symbol”, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
- Antarctic Art Contest: Students and professionals alike are invited to submit written or visual pieces about the WAIS Divide. Specifically, it’s suggested that pieces focus on water isotopes, CO2 and methane gases, radar imagery, or imagery of ice samples. Deadline is October 1st.
- Children’s Art Mangrove Calender: Elementary-aged school children invited to create art expressing “Why mangroves are important to my community and me”. Deadline is July 31st.
- National Marine Sanctuary “Classic”: This photography contest runs from July 4th-September 7th. Each week one winner is selected and at the end thirteen winners receive scholarships. Photos are based on all or a combination of: Kids Fishing, Kids and Family Values, Kids in the Outdoors, Kids in the Sanctuaries and Kids’ Conservation within each individual National Marine Sanctuary.
- “Nature Investigators” Contest: There is one photography contest specific for environmental educators and then a writing and art contest for the kids. Deadline for both is August 14th.
- Ranger Rick’s Photo Contest: This is an ongoing photography contest for kids 13 years old and under.
I just got back from a little family vacation where we went to the luxurious place I called home for many years (i.e., “the Jersey shore”). Don’t get me wrong, being with the kids any day takes my breath away (from both ends of the spectrum, let’s be honest). But, spending time along the Atlantic coast on the barrier island where I grew up (as a local, not just “for the summers”) is such a different experience with the kids (four and one) is a remarkable opportunity to really settle and enjoy each moment through their eyes. Here are some fun ways that not only I, but the older family members around me, came to enjoy living like a kid again. Please feel free to comment and share what makes you feel like a kid again too.
Those huge platforms along the causeways are there for a very important reason. Osprey build their nests on them. They’ll also build their nests on any open platform free from predators and near shallow water. But, the man-made platforms have really help to bring back populations of osprey after their sharp decline in numbers due to DDT. Each year the huge raptors, also known as “fish hawks” because 99.9% of their diet is fish, wait until after the water thaws to build a nest. Since the winter was so long this year along the Mid-Atlantic many of the birds just made their nests in March/April. With an incubation period of just over a month and the young needing just about two months before they take off from the nest it was a perfect time to follow along with Greg Kearns of Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro, MD, as he banded juvenile osprey (don’t worry, he has a permit for this kind of thing).
Osprey are banded at a young age to help determine their migration patterns, life expectancy, as well as reasons for mortality. The band that is placed on the young is very light weight and has not hindered their ability to catch food. I am incredibly grateful for his time and dedication to his efforts in conservation and education. Thank you for your enthusiasm and sharing your knowledge with the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association late last month. Here are some more interesting facts learned along the way:
- As with all birds of prey these birds have very sharp talons. But, the osprey have a reverse talon making it easy for them to grasp their prey with two toes in the front and two from behind.
- The male usually scopes out the spot for the nest to be built several days before the arrival of the female.
- Osprey are asynchronous incubators and do not hatch all at once. The female typically lay four eggs but usually one two survive. While they do share food distributed by their mother the oldest one dominates.
- The hunts for food for the mother and young and before he returns to the nest with food he’ll eat about one-third of the fish. Hunting for fish does burn a lot of calories after all. The mother and young will eat the rest of the fish, but seem to not favor the gut of the fish. The adults generally need about 300 grams of fish per day.
- There is a 40-50% chance of survival for the young. The average age of an osprey is 8-10 years old. The oldest tracked osprey was found to be 33 years old.
- Their nests are made of sticks from the surrounding marsh plants, as well as animal hide or even litter such as plastic bags.
- Young osprey have orange eyes that turn brown as they get older.
If you live near shallow water and want to build a platform there are several plans available here: http://www.osprey-watch.org/
To watch a pair of osprey raising their young during this nesting season from the comfort of your own screen check out the Patuxent River Park’s Osprey Cam here: http://www.pgparks.com/