Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Craft Solution

Problem: We’re going to the National Hunting and Fishing Day Wildlife and Forestry Festival to set up a booth. About 500 festival-goers will swim past. What can we bring that will draw them in, that will distinguish us from the other exhibitors, that will send them home thinking “I’m gonna have to check out that Walter B. Jacobs Nature Park?”

The objects we bring overlap with the fur trappers’ exhibit. The animals we bring overlap with the falconers’ exhibit as well as the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ booth with the baby alligators.

Pamphlets and fliers end up lost on the grounds of the recreation area more often than they make it all the way back to the cars.

Solution: Crafts! And more precisely, crafts that directly relate to our traveling exhibits. We have that old alligator on a stick! If we label the craft with the park’s contact information, it might just make it all the way home.

To complement the live owl, I came up with an Owl Mask. It met all the criteria in my wanted ad for a craft: It would be a memento of meeting the live owl; it would illustrate the relative size of owl eyes to human eyes; it would have the park’s contact information on the back; it would be pre-cut and ready to decorate in the interest of saving time; and it could be decorated any way the maker wanted, using markers, crayons, glitter, etc. (Okay, the glitter part wasn’t optional. We painted every eyeball with gold glitter paint.)

The mask was a raving success! All over the festival there were children wearing owl masks.

“Where did you get that mask?”

“At the Walter B. Jacobs Nature Park booth over there!”

Craft Conundrum

We have this craft in ‘the vault’ that comes out from time to time. It’s a cardstock alligator on a stick. It’s cute. It has googly eyes, zigzagged felt strips, and a brass fastener that allows its tail to swing back and forth. It was employed at Earth Camp for a number of years to complement a folk tale about how the alligator got its bumpy, scaly skin.

I took it out of circulation for two reasons: 1) Returning campers were complaining that they remembered and even still possessed the craft from previous summers; and 2) It is a step-by-step assembly that offers little room for creative expression. In fact, campers had to write their names on the crafts in order to tell them apart.

It makes reappearances for three reasons: 1) If you don’t already have one, it is a cute craft; 2) A child is more likely to get all the way home with it than he is with a brochure or flier; and 3) One of my predecessors prepared thousands of alligator on a stick crafts. Someone cut out over one thousand alligator feet, 300 bodies, 300 tails, 900 strips of felt. Someone bagged up sets of 40 crafts that included the exact number of googly eyes and brass fasteners. I do not want to waste that time or materials that were invested.

But, why do we employ crafts at a nature park? What kinds of crafts are appropriate? And how do we balance the need to be economical with our time against the need to express creativity? What a conundrum!

Here are my objectives for doing crafts:

· To create a memento of an interpretive experience
“I made this!”
“I touched a real live alligator today!”

· To reinforce concepts explored in a game, hike or presentation
“Alligators have bumpy, scaly skin that protects them from all sorts of nasty things.”
“Alligators’ eyeballs can look straight even if their bodies are tilted.”
“An alligator’s tail is half the length of its body.”

· To shamelessly promote my site
“Look what I made at Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park today!”

For me, finding or creating appropriate crafts that can be done quickly and still allow participants opportunities to do them their own ways is a constant challenge.

(By the way, if you want the alligator folktale or alligator on a stick craft instructions, send me an email or Facebook message.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Two Checkered Skippers

For the July count, I tried to cram into my brain an inordinate amount of details regarding butterfly identification. After the count I suffered a bit of burn out, and did not revisit the subject until yesterday. Yesterday, we performed a seasonal NABA count. The old adage that says cramming isn’t learning holds true. If you want to do it, you’ve got to do it right.

Two Checkered Skippers

There are two checkered skippers in the Northwest Louisiana area: the Common Checkered Skipper and the Tropical Checkered Skipper. In theory, the ‘common’ one is more abundant than the ‘tropical’ one - but you’re not out there to make assumptions about populations – you’re out there to make observations.

It’s little and light and skips along the ground… It could be a blue… it could be a hairstreak… You track it and watch it land. It’s checkered, so it’s a checkered skipper.

Step 1: Get an up-close look with your binocular. (It may be all you get.)

Step 2: Take a photograph from a distance.

Step 3: Get closer to the butterfly and take another photograph.

How can you tell which checkered skipper it is? I call it “continental drift.”
Take a look at the images.

The top row shows male and female Common Checkered Skippers. The bottom row features male and female Tropical Checkered Skippers.

Look again.

Common Checkered Skippers have a large spot (the continent) about half-way between the body and the tip of the forewing. Sometimes there is a tiny dot next to it, but usually there is only one large spot.

Tropical Checkered Skippers have the same large spot, though it’s often a tad slimmer. Next to the large spot is a second smaller spot. To me, it looks like an island broke off the mainland and is drifting away.

There are a couple other differences: Common Checkered Skippers have a uniformly checkered fringe, whereas the Tropical Checkered Skippers seem to be missing a few patches of white in the fringe pattern. Also, just inward from the fringe, Tropical Checkered Skippers have a row of white spots that extends all the way to the tip. That row is incomplete on Common Checkered Skippers.

I’ve just received word that the trail through C. Bickham Dickson Park was mowed and widened this morning. So, the place that hosted dozens of Tropical Checkered Skippers yesterday is now devoid of any skippers at all. I hope that movie they’re going to film out there is a good one.