Tuesday, September 11, 2012

what you can see if you look closely, with wonder

my head is still swirling with really cool stuff i learned today during our homeschool trip to cache creek nature preserve.  i don't know what the kids took away from it, but i sure got a lot out of it.  (actually, diana did tell me that she really didn't know what she would learn before we arrived, but after the activities and exploration, she was surprised by all the things she did learn about.)  chalk up a win for trying something new without knowing very much about it - a whole new world opened up to us!
among the many, many things we were exposed to today, these are a few points that really amazed me:

different kinds of turkey feathers
- iridescence in turkey feathers.  it reminded me of something i had learned about some butterfly wing colors due to structure, rather than pigmentation, on an episode of dragonflyTV during nanodays last year.

- more about feathers: one tends to see white birds with black wingtips.  it's because black wingtips are stronger than white ones due to melanin pigmentation.

- oak galls.  i didn't know anything about, or even heard of, galls.  this is an excellent example of coevolution between valley oaks and the specific wasp that triggers the growth of a gall to incubate its young.

valley oak galls in various stages of growth.  sometimes called "oak apples," these are too tough to crack, but the wasps are able to bore their way out from the inside.  disturbing yet fascinating.

- scat (otherwise known as animal poo).  most of what i'd known about scat was from inspecting owl pellets.  we saw so many different kinds of scat today - from racoons, coyotes, bobcats, and birds.  turkey hens and turkey toms have differently shaped scat.  go figure.  i know from the book everyone poops that different kinds of animals have different kinds of poop, but learning there's a difference between males and females of the same species, well, that blew me away.

owl pellet.  yes, i took pictures of vomit.  it's valuable data to a naturalist.
the docents did a marvelous job of leading the activities.  parents were expected to be full participants along with their children - we were all learners here - and we sure got into it!  we had the opportunity to explore three different stations: biomonitoring (in the creek), habitat hunt, and life in the oaks.

if you want to investigate, you need to use the right equipment!  some of us could have benefited from hip waders, though, given the depth of the water in some areas.

the deep water here was ideal for catching fish specimens
shallow pans and magnifiers in place, ready to receive specimens for inspection

one explorer in our group was an expert at finding and catching lizards.  this one was by the creek.

blue damselfly.  we saw dragonflies, too.  i didn't know what the difference was, or even if there was a difference at all.  this trip inspired me to do some research at home about them.  they are different!

mosquito fish

an ideal day for creek exploration: warm air, cool water, sunny skies

evidence of beaver presence in the area
turkey tail feather

on the way to visit a heritage oak

determining the age of a tree by counting its rings on a cross-section of trunk

woodpecker holes in tree bark are the perfect size to fit acorns inside for later consumption

another lizard, this time in the oaks, too high to reach

a dragonfly

milkweed plant with an unidentified insect preying on the aphids

more milkweed
what's inside the dead tree?

raccoon scat!
plenty of tules along the water's edge.  great for basket weaving when cut, dried, and soaked in water to soften.

awesome, unexpected bonus: we heard splashing amongst the tules in the water.  we saw movement and expected to perhaps see an otter.  it was a jackrabbit, sloshing his way to dry land!

we have the chance to come back again two more times over the year so we can see the changes in the environment over the seasons.  i'm so glad we will.


  1. Great pictures! Looks like a fun outing!

  2. It was awesome to look at your pics and relive your expedition.

    1. thanks, kathy. i appreciate knowing that my post allowed you to experience some of it with us. it was entirely the kind of thing that i imagine we would do together if we were still in st. louis. totally your style.

  3. You did an excellent job of observing and photographing things, both large and small. There were great clouds on the day when I hiked at Cache Creek Nature Preserve, so I focused mostly on big landscape photos.