It was a cool morning at the Land Trust's Metolius Preserve. All the trees and plants were lush and green. Beautiful wildflowers dotted the meadow as a group of us began our exploration of this peaceful forest on a Land Trust Kids' Explorit Walk. Our mission: to find out what animals and plants live in a forest like this.
On my Land Trust kids walks, I like to let the children be the leaders. Together we wander the Preserve and explore it! Children (perhaps because they're closer to the ground than us adults?) are very good at spotting signs of living things--especially when they are equipped with hand lenses and small binoculars! To get a feel for how a Land Trust Explorit Walk works, join us at a child's meandering pace and see what we noticed:
- We studied a small tree limb covered with chartreuse lichen and then noticed it growing on almost all the trees nearby.
- A child found an ant carrying something larger that its own body, and a hand lens showed it was a tiny bit of paper. Maybe it was to line a nest in the ant hole?
- We could hear the burbling of Lake Creek and followed the sound over to a viewing platform. We learned how this clear, cold water plays an important part of the life cycle of the ocean-going salmon that will soon return to this birthplace to start anew.
- In our quest for 'hidey' holes, we found big holes made by woodpeckers and small holes made by bark beetles and other insects. We could even trace the pattern of the bark beetles chewing on the inside of the bark.
- We sat on the stumps in the log circle and counted tree rings--most were 40 to 60 years old when cut!
- A curled up larva on a leaf illuminated one of the life cycles of the butterflies or moths that inhabit this forest. We saw an adult sulpher butterfly at 'rest' with it's wings closed.
- It was fun to turn over rocks and to find out who lives underneath (being careful, of course, to move the rock slowly and away from our face). One rock had a very large kind of lichen growing on it along with a dark green, soft moss.
- Exploration of a pile of pine cones on a log helped us learn that squirrels peel the little leaves or bracts off to get at the delicious seed inside.
- The cone of the Douglas fir tree is much smaller than nearby pine tress and it has what looks like tiny mouse tails hanging out.
- Small holes on the ground could be a home for meadow mice.
- In our search for animal life, the children spotted deer tracks which led in one direction...to the creek for a cool drink!
- Time to return to our starting place and discover what owls eat for lunch. Dissecting owl pellets brought cries of "I found a jaw with teeth--it's so tiny!" "This looks like a skull...and leg bones. It must be a mouse."
Near the end of our hike we found a tiny new fir tree only a few inches high--what promising sign of the forest renewing itself.