Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rainy Day Activity: The Water Cycle Game Reinvented

The water cycle game shows up in a few places, and goes by a few names. In Project WET, it’s called The Incredible Journey. To take an ‘incredible journey,’ participants act as water molecules, start at one of the nine places water can be (clouds, glaciers, oceans, rivers, lakes, underground, soil, plants, and animals), and roll a die to find out which part of the cycle to move to. After a few rounds, patterns emerge that participants can interpret: There’s a lot of water in the ocean; water in the ground tends to stay in the ground; water in a glacier tends to stay in the glacier; evaporation and sublimation into the clouds are how much of the water moves from one stage of the cycle to another; and, the amount of water in the cycle is constant.

Design an adequate record sheet to accompany the activity, provide adequate guidance before and during the activity, and summarize the trends discovered through playing the activity and participants will have a worthwhile experience. But where are the tangible-intangible links? What will participants take home?

The answers are… beads! And a bracelet!

I cannot even take credit for this. One of the Earth Camp counselors got it from a ShrevCORPS team leader who got it from a Project Learning Tree facilitator. But it is so awesome! I have to pass it on:

Instead of having the participants work in teams and record each leg of their journey with a pencil and paper, have each participant work independently and collect a colored bead from each station. When they have enough beads to fit around their wrists, tie it off and it’s done. Each participant has a personalized bracelet to keep, and each bead of the bracelet represents where her water molecule has been. Talk about tangible!

About the beads…

I went to Michael’s and for frugality’s sake I purchased 1 pound of mini pony beads in assorted colors, along with 20 yards of plastic cord for about $7.00. There were 11 colors in the bag. Once sorted, there were over 200 beads of each color. One pound of beads and 20 yards of cord is enough to make at least 30 bracelets.

White = clouds
Red = animals
Orange = ground water
Yellow = rivers
Green = plants
Blue = ocean
Indigo = lakes
Violet = glacier
Black = soil
The assortment included cream and pink beads that were not used in the game.

If you’re doing this with a small group, you might consider purchasing more novel beads. Animal-shaped and plant-shaped beads, seashells, wooden beads, and semiprecious stones like amethyst and lapis lazuli are easy enough to find. It may even be possible to find cloud-shaped beads.

Monday, July 6, 2009


The forest is full of all kinds of creatures, great and small. Ticks are some of those small creatures you’d rather not see! Ticks are in the spider family, but while spiders live respectable lives hunting for themselves and controlling insect populations, ticks are free loaders. They literally sit around and wait for someone to come by and feed them. Don’t let that someone be you:

Tuck your shirt into your pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Ticks can’t bite you and suck your blood if they can’t find your skin.

Spray your clothing with an insect repellent – especially one containing DEET that claims to protect against ticks.

Stay on the designated trails to avoid the dense vegetation where ticks usually hang out.

After your encounter with the natural world, check your body for ticks. Get in front of a mirror, take off every garment, and perform a head-to-toe inspection. Turn your clothing inside-out and carefully examine the seams. Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat to exterminate any hitchhikers.

If you find a tick, don’t freak out. He has to be attached for days in order to transmit any of those nasty diseases he carries, so you have a minute to make sure you get him off right. Use tweezers and extract his little head from your skin. If you are hosting an overwhelming number of these parasites, revert to the chigger solution: one cup of bleach in 4 inches of bathwater.

Take a few precautions and the nuisance of ticks won’t keep you from enjoying the outdoors.


There are more insects than any other kind of animal in the forest. All have a place in nature. Some are quite interesting, like the long-lived cicadas. Others, like butterflies, dragonflies, and fireflies can be beautiful, beneficial, and even awe-inspiring. Wasps too, are part of the web of life.

Wasps are nature’s own pest control service, preying on many insects, including caterpillars, flies, crickets, and others in order to feed their babies. Late in the summer when queens stop laying eggs, wasps start collecting sweets. Their instinct for survival drives them to defend themselves, their nests, and food sources – and they do that with a stinger!

Yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps (also known as red wasps) are the ones most likely to attack humans. To avoid a sting, be observant of your surroundings. When you spot a wasp, watch her. If she lingers in one small area, she may be guarding a nest or collecting food. Imagine there is a ten-foot-wide bubble surrounding that site, and walk around it. If she is traveling along your path, she has somewhere to be. Step to the side and let her pass.

If you do get stung, ouch! You will most likely have a local, non-allergic reaction ranging from burning, itching, redness, and tenderness to massive swelling and itching that may last up to a week. Treatments include ice, vinegar, honey, meat tenderizer, and commercial topical ointments. If you experience hives or rash, swelling away from the sting site, headache, minor respiratory symptoms, and stomach upset, you may want to get an over-the-counter antihistamine.

Very rarely, a person may suffer a life-threatening, systemic allergic reaction to a bee or wasp sting, which can cause anaphylactic shock (fainting, difficulty breathing, swelling, and blockage in the throat) within minutes of being stung. These systemic symptoms are cause for immediate medical attention. If you know you have systemic allergic reactions to bee or wasp stings, consult your doctor to get a prescription auto-injector of epinephrine to carry with you at all times.

Respect wasps by giving them some personal space, and you can avoid an unpleasant experience and enjoy the natural world. Come visit Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park and see for yourself how awesome nature is!

Home Depot Naturalist Moment

Okay, if this is a bit rambly and divergent, I claim sleep deprivation as my excuse…

Brief background: The door of the classroom at the nature park has a clear glass window. It lets in too much light to do activities requiring darkness – like simulating night vision, showing slide presentations, and facilitating our own version of Mystery Science Theater. Some of the naturalists also find it to be a source of distraction for them and for their audiences to have curious heads popping in and out of the window while presentations are in progress. Until a few days ago, the window was covered with a make-shifted privacy film. This morning, I went to Home Depot to purchase a commercially-produced window film of a botanical, stained-glass pattern (as per the naturalist team’s preferences).

An associate helped me locate the display of window film, and when we only found rice paper, frosted glass, amber glass, and pebbles, he set about to locate the extra stock for wisteria, magnolia, or clematis. As I stood there waiting for him to check in some out-of-site place, and then on a shelf around the corner, I spied the word “Gila,” and then the word “clematis,” about 12 feet above the mini blinds display. He was quite impressed that I found the items when he could not. I explained that the “Gila” brand name was on other window film products, so it caught my eye as I was looking up. Then, of course, “clematis” is one of the patterns I was shopping for, so that, too, got my attention.

When he struggled to pronounce those two words, the naturalist revealed herself. “I think it’s Hee-la, like the venomous lizard the Gila Monster.” Which is, by the way, named after a river and the area around the river where the lizard was discovered. “And it’s Clu MA tiss, A flowering vine.” As he confirmed the connection to the Gila Monster (because doesn’t everybody watch Animal Planet), I realized I may have honed in on those words because they are in my vernacular as a naturalist, whereas they have little to do with window coverings.

So before my first cup of coffee after a long night of mediating conflict between a basset hound and a Virginia opossum (a story for another time), I and the home depot associate learned something new.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Seven Days until the Shreveport Count

I'm feeling the pressure. Jeff Trahan is the Shreveport NABA Count compiler. I've had the privilege to go butterfly counting with him (not for the count) on a few occasions. I've expressed interest in THE COUNT year after year, and then let it slip my mind. This year, I vowed to actually participate in THE COUNT, and to seal the deal, Trahan assigned me a section of the count circle.

My own section.

No pressure.

To prepare for this, I have been studying. Using the Roger Tory Peterson method, I've been comparing similar species and honing in on how to tell them apart. (That man was a genius.) Here are the sets I am scrutinizing:

1. The Dark Swallowtails
2. Two Ladies
3. Two Crescents and a Checkerspot
4. Two Sulphurs and a Dogface
5. Little, Dainty, and Sleepy
6. Two Fritillaries
7. Two Emperors
8. Two Pearly Eyes
9. Viceroy and Monarch
10. Question Mark and Eastern Comma
11. Three Satyrs
12. Three Duskywings
13. Silver-spotted Skipper & Hoary Edge
14. Three Cloudywings
15. Two Broken-dashes
16. Dun and Glassywing
17. Least Skipper and Southern Skipperling
18. Clouded and Zabulon
19. Fiery and Whirlabout
20. Eufala and Tawny-edged

To my credit, I am competent at 11 of these. That leaves 9 sets to study with only 7 days to go, which means I probably don't have time to post my study guides here.

Two awesome sources that I am using are Randy Emmitt's Butterflies of the Carolinas and Virginia, and Will Cook's Carolina Nature-Butterflies. The Carolinas apparently have all the butterflies we have in Louisiana, and then some.

Emmitt's site has a few quizzes you can use to test yourself (be careful with your mouse, though, or you'll spoil the game). He also has pages for each species, and a neat little trick where you can roll your mouse over the image and see identifying features highlighted. There is a list in the left column of each species page that links similar species, so you can click back and forth to compare the forewing spots and hindwing bands and such.

Cook's Site is visually stunning. You can read about identifying features in the little text blurbs to the right of the photographs. Buried in those blurbs are jewels of trivia, like why it is called a "Comma!"

Between these two sites and the Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East book, I might not embarrass myself next weekend!