Check back every few days for new nuggets and fun things to do!
Yesterday as we sat on the office porch for a meeting, we had a wonderful visitor to the hanging geranium baskets – a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird!
Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are the only hummingbird that is regularly seen in New England from May until September. These tiny birds have a metallic green head and back, white breast, tail feathers and a long, needle-like bill. The male has a distinctive iridescent red throat (which at certain angles can appear to be black). The female does not have a red throat and her outer tail feathers have white tips. The juvenile resembles the female.
Some of the great fun facts about these beautiful and amazing little birds include:
* They have an extremely rapid metabolic rate. Their hearts beat more than 600 times per minute, and their tiny wings can beat up to 70 times per second during regular flight.
* Their wings create a characteristic buzzing sound that also makes them easy to identify and they can even fly backwards!
* These tiny birds, only 3 to 4 inches long and weighing less than 2 ounces, migrate north from Central America and Mexico every spring to breed throughout the US and parts of Canada.
* They eat 5-6 times each hour to maintain their high metabolic rate and in the late summer they will eat even more as they build up fat for their migration south. While they will eat all sorts of nectar and even insects, they prefer tubular flowers that are red or orange in color.
* Females build their nests on tree branches or in shrubs, from a variety of materials held together with spider silk.
* A typical hummingbird will live about 5 years, but individuals have been known to live up to 12 years.
Check out this great video of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in action!
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* See if you can spot two fall flowers that start blooming at this time of year are yellow Goldenrod and purple New England Asters.
* As we get into September, look at the sky and see if can spot soaring hawks that are starting their fall migration.
* Sit quietly near flowers and see if you can spot a hummingbird coming to drink nectar. If you are lucky you may even catch a glimpse of a Hummingbird Moth!
Animals Preparing for Winter
Even though we are still enjoying summer days, our wildlife is already preparing for the winter months ahead. Black Bears are fattening up on insects, berries and other vegetation for their winter sleep. While they may get up and move around their dens, they do not eat during these months and instead rely on the fat they have built up over the spring and summer. Woodchucks are fattening themselves up on a variety of food sources to be ready for their true hibernation period, which begins in October. Other mammals are hoarding food stashes to see them through the winter. One animal that most of us can observe is the Gray Squirrel.
Gray Squirrels who are active in the winter are “scatter hoarders”. You’ll see them busily collecting acorns and stashing them in a variety of spots – crevices in tree trunks and holes under the ground and rocks. But how do they find these stashes in the middle of the winter? They actually use their saliva to glue their food into the chosen spot. Then they follow the scent of their saliva back to that spot when it is time to eat. By scattering their food, they aren’t putting all of their eggs in one basket so to speak, so even if other squirrels find a stash or two, they still have more food supplies to fall back on.
Then there are “larder hoarders”, like the chipmunk. You can see them in the late summer filling their cheeks with seeds and nuts to be carried deep into the underground burrows. During the winter, chipmunks sleep in the burrows and awake occasionally to enjoy their fall harvest. See for yourself a chipmunk hoarder in action.
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* Collect random items from nature and create a collage, mobile, sculpture, etc.
* Seed Hunt – go outside to any area with trees, bushes, plants, etc. and see how many different types of seeds you can find.
* Go outside and look around – frogs and toads are everywhere – in the woods, in your yard, in ponds and streams, and wetland areas.
Anyone who has spent time at camp has seen evidence of Beavers – they are amazing animals and here are a few fun facts about them…
* Beavers are second only to humans in their ability to create their environment – one reason they build dams is to raise the water level so that they will have open water under the ice in the winter. The largest dam is in Canada. It stretches for over 1⁄2 mile and is visible from space.
* Beavers build lodges out of sticks and mud and have an underwater entrance. They choose a spot on a lake or river where they will be safe from predators. A whole beaver family will live in a single lodge – mom, dad, young kids, and yearlings.
* Beavers can close their ears while swimming, have a set of transparent eyelids which enable them to see under water, and webbed feet – basically like our ear plugs, swim googles and flippers!
* Beavers use their broad, stiff tails like rudders to steer under water, and for balance while sitting on land. They also use their tails to slap the water as a warning of danger, or a warning to keep away.
* Beavers’ teeth look orange and that’s because they have iron in them for strength – they need super strong teeth to chew through the tree trucks and branches they use for building lodges and dams as well as for a source of food.
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* Try making your own beaver dam – if you don’t have a stream nearby, how about a tasty one with pretzel sticks and melted chocolate!
* Go outside at night and see if you hear an insect symphony filled with lots of chirps and trills. Many of the sounds you hear will be made by crickets, katydids, grasshoppers and cicadas.
* If you’re lucky enough to have ferns nearby, you can make beautiful rubbings or prints with chock, crayon or paint. Or perhaps use ferns for designs in clay projects.
Perseid Meteor Shower
It’s time to get outdoors at night and see one of the best meteor showers of the year! The Perseid meteor showers are active from the middle of July to almost the end of August and peak on August 11th, 12th & 13th. Just like all meteors, the Perseids come from leftover comet particles and bits from broken asteroids. When comets come around the sun, they leave a dusty trail behind them. Every year Earth passes through these debris trails, which allows the bits to collide with our atmosphere and disintegrate to create bright streaks in the sky.
The very fast and bright meteors of Perseids frequently leave long “wakes” of light and color behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. The Perseids are one of the most plentiful showers (50-100 meteors seen per hour) and while best viewing is after midnight and before dawn, you will still be able to see meteors in the earlier evening. People from all over the Northern Hemisphere will be watching so, get out a blanket, find a spot of dark sky, and enjoy the light show!
Want to learn more about the Perseids and meteor showers? Click here
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* Want to learn more about the constellations in the night sky? It can be hard to pick them out whether you live in a dark or light-filled sky area. A great app is the Night Sky app and it can be downloaded here
* When you see a spider web in your home or yard, take a close look at the amazing construction and design. See if you can copy it by making a web out of yarn or string or by making a sketch.
* Caterpillars are out! See how many different kinds you can spot in your area – but be aware some caterpillars are harmless to humans while others can cause skin irritation and different problems for humans, so look, but don;t touch!
Granite is all around us in New Hampshire! It is an intrusive igneous rock that forms from molten material (magma) that flows and solidifies underground, where magma cools slowly. Granite is tough, very dense, can bear significant weight and resists weathering. Depending on where it is found it can have a wide variety of colors and patterns. These are all reasons why all of us have first-hand experience with granite. You see it in countertops, floor tiles, doorsteps, cemetery monuments, and it’s used as a primary building material.
Granite is everywhere in New Hampshire from the White Mountains to the seacoast. New Hampshire has honored granite by naming it as the state rock and our nickname, “The Granite State”, comes from the huge number of granite quarries that are found here.
Our very own town of Fitzwilliam had an important quarry off the lake road that you pass on the way to camp. It became a one of the three largest suppliers of granite in NH, in part because it was easily accessible and could be shipped to far off places from the Fitzwilliam Depot. Happily, we benefited from this quarry as well. We have lots of this fine gray granite around camp. It serves as the foundations for most of our buildings today and those of long ago. We have steps and benches made out of granite and if you look around the woods you’ll see more. Two of my favorite areas of granite are by the waterfall where you can see old slabs of rock that channeled the water to be used to power the mills downstream. Another is past the Password Grove and behind Junior Lodge where you’ll see how a granite wall is actually holding the beaver pond. So next time you are at camp, take a look – you’ll see this very cool rock all over the place!
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* Go on a granite hunt – see how many different ways you can find granite used in everyday things. Of course, see if you can find granite in it’s naturally occurring state – hint it will be the most common rock you’ll find in fields, the forest and maybe even your backyard.
* Continue the rock theme – our Richard is a master of finding large and small rocks that look like animals and other things. Then he gets his Sharpie markers out and adds to what is there naturally – eyes, snout, etc. Try it out and bring a favorite to camp next summer to show him!
* There are tons of old rock walls in New England. If you are lucky enough to live by one, check it out. In the days when most of the land was cleared in New England for farming, you can tell which walls were around fields for grazing and which were for farming by the size of the rocks. All big rocks were used for livestock fields, the walls that may have some big but many more small rocks were for planting. Why do you think that was so?
High Bush Blueberry
The blueberries at camp are ready! My walks along the trail from Treat Beach this week were very slow because there were so many perfectly ripe berries just waiting to be picked. They are delicious! This trail and the road to the Fields are perfect places for these bushes to grow. They love sandy soil that is rich in organic matter. They certainly need water but also lots of sunshine. We aren’t the only ones that love our blueberry bushes. Bees, particularly bumblebees, visit the flowers of blueberry bushes in the spring for their nectar and in the process, pollen sticks to the bees and as they visit more bushes, they spread the pollen. Deer love blueberry bushes because the berries are high in vitamin C and other nutrients that they need, and of course, birds can clear a bush of berries very quickly. We’re sad you’re not here to gather blueberries, but our wildlife friends are not letting them go to waste!
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* While you may not be able to collect wild blueberries at camp, you may be able to around your home. Roadsides, sides of lakes and ponds, and edges of fields are all great places to check. Pick some and add them to muffins or pancakes, make jam and just eat them by the handful!
* On a day with clouds in the sky, find a spot to lay on your back and take a look at the sky – what images do you see in those clouds?
* Go outside in the evening and see if you spot fireflies – while more common earlier in the summer, there are still something twinkling after dark.
Do you want to see something that people won’t see again for 6,800 years??? A recently discovered comet, NEOWISE, will be passing closest to Earth on July 22-23 – but still visible for a bit after that. Neowise is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old! A simple way to describe a comet is that it’s a collection of rock particles, dust and ice. Neowise is about 3 miles across and the reason we can see it is that it is passing relatively close to the sun and the ice in the comet is being melted which creates a glowing vapor that reflects the sun. Comets are really cool to see and while Neowise has definitely been seen with the naked eye, a simple pair of binoculars may help you to spot it. Look to the northwest sky after sunset and spot the Big Dipper and it will look like it is sitting below the Dipper closer to the horizon. One way spotting the comet has been described, is by stretching out your arm, making a fist pointed at the Big Dipper and then lower your fist toward the horizon three times.
Good luck spotting Neowise – otherwise it’s going to be a very long wait until it’s back!
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* Take a walk in the grass… how many different things do you feel?
* When the weather is starting to change, take a look at trees around you. Do you notice anything different about the leaves?
* Lot’s of plants are flowering – take a look at who’s visiting them – you may see butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.
If you took a walk today around camp or a field or even a country roadside, you’d spot Common Milkweed plants. Milkweeds are very adaptable, but they do love sun and water in their habitat. If you look closely, you’ll see lots of insect activity – in fact it is natural mega food market for insects. Monarch butterflies laying eggs and feeding on the flowers (milkweed is the only source of food for Monarchs), bumblebees drinking the nectar, and in the evening, moths that are attracted by the milkweed’s sweet smell. One of the physical characteristics of milkweed is its sticky flowers which means the insects that successfully visit a patch of milkweed will carry the pollen to another patch of milkweed which continues the plant’s process of developing seeds. While many insects benefit greatly from this plant, you may see some that have not been so lucky and have instead gotten stuck and died.
Most of us probably notice the Common Milkweed most in later summer or early fall when the brown pods completely open and the seeds are dispersed by what looks like silken, white parachutes with a brown seed attached. Milkweed plants are amazing at spreading thousands of seeds far and wide watch them here
As much as insects rely on milkweed, humans too have found great value in it over the years. The book “Naturally Curious” by Mary Holland describes some these human uses of the silken white fluff: “Over the years it has provided mattress stuffing (8-9 pounds of fluff per bed); a substitute for life preserver filling during the Second World War (26 ounces of the waxy hollow threads packed inside a life jacket will keep a 150 pound person afloat for 48 hours); and cloth (the silky hairs, mixed with flax or wool, were woven to create a softer thread than either fiber alone).”
The Common Milkweed is not so common after all!
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* Keep your eye out for abandoned bird nests. If you find one, make sure it is empty by observing it for a few days, and then with gloves on, take a close look at the construction – birds are pretty amazing engineers.
* If you are lucky enough to have conifer (needle bearing) trees nearby, check out the bark for blobs of resin. Carefully scrap it off and drop it into hot water and smell the great scent. If you can’t find resin, try the needles themselves in hot water.
* Get out your crayons and paper and head outside to do nature rubbings – so many cool textures in leaves, bark, stone, etc. etc.
A Friend at Camp We have a big woodchuck enjoying camp this summer! I have seen him around the Dining Hall frequently and that’s not surprising. At this time of the year woodchucks are HUNGRY. They are eating lots to build up a large fat layer for hibernating during the winter. While he or she is not actually eating in the Dining Hall , the woodchuck loves the grass, dandelions, and clover all around it. If you or someone you know, has a vegetable garden, it is quite possible that at some point, a woodchuck has come for lunch! I haven’t found the tunnel our friend lives in yet, but I am keeping my eyes open for piles of dirt that are typically outside it’s 3 or 4 entrances. Other fun facts to know, woodchucks stand up on their hind legs to look around the landscape, if they feel threatened they make a high pitched whistle, and woodchucks are also called Groundhogs. Woodchucks are diurnal (active in the daytime), so if you are in a grassy area, a field or a garden, keep your eyes peeled for a fat, brownish, furry friend! You can also check one out here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKmguHnd5DE
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* Lots of songbirds are busy with their babies this month. Look for signs of birds and nests in trees, shrubs, and under the edge of roofs or porches. Listen for the sounds of baby birds as they ask for food – they can be really loud and insistent!
* For all of you that live in cities or more developed areas, look closer at the shapes of buildings, fences and any other human-made structures. See if you can find patterns, textures or shapes that imitate something in nature.
* Butterflies are here! Spend a bit of time watching how many different flowers and shrubs they visit as they look for nectar. You may even see a “puddling of butterflies” (a bunch all together on the ground) – see if you can figure out why they puddle.
The Common Loon is often described as majestic with its striking silhouette, black and white spotted plumage, and red eyes is one of the most amazing birds of Laurel Lake. We are so lucky to be the home of nesting loons throughout the summer months. These amazing birds delight us daily with their swimming skills, diving and popping up some distance away, and their distinctive and haunting calls.
They are fascinating birds with many unique characteristics including:
Loons are amazing swimmers and divers – they look a bit like submarines. Their solid bones make them less buoyant, and they can quickly expel air from their lungs and flatten their feathers to achieve great distances and depth in the water. 10-60 seconds underwater is typical, but can extend to three minutes or more.
As graceful and efficient as Loons are on the water, they are awkward walkers on land. Their legs are very far back on their bodies which leads to stumbling and pushing themselves on their bellies. Their land time is limited to mating and incubating their eggs in the nests on the water’s edge.
Loons are like airplanes. They need a long runway, at least 30 yards of open water “running”, to take off. Once airborne, they can fly at speeds of up to 70 mph.
Fish are a favorite food and a hungry family of four can eat about a half a ton of fish over 4 months.
Loons usually mate for life and raise their chicks together. It’s not uncommon to see their babies riding on their backs for the first week after hatching to protect them from predators.
Open water is a must, so Loons migrate, often spending winters in the ocean. At that point their plumage changes from black and white to gray, and their eyes turn from red to gray.
Loons have four distinct calls: tremolo, wail, yodel and hoot. These are used in courtship and territorial disputes, communication between pairs and offspring, and among flock members, and to signal danger.
We are so lucky to share Laurel Lake with our Loons!
Want to learn more? Visit https://loon.org/
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* If you’re curious how often the weather forecast is correct, go to your favorite app and check out what the hourly or daily forecast and do some comparison with your own observations.
* Wildflowers are everywhere! Try pressing a few simply by placing them between a few between a piece of parchment paper or a coffee filter inside a book. Add another book or two on top for extra weight. Wait a 5-7days or until dry.
* If you are lucky enough to live by a pond or wetland, take a close look around the edges and you might see America Toad egg masses (they look like light green jelly) or tadpoles that have hatched from the eggs.
The Buck Moon July’s full moon, the Buck Moon, is tonight. It’s called the Buck Moon because it’s time of year that male deer will start growing their antlers. The rising moon will be visible in the southeast sky after sunset and will be at its brightest illumination at 12:44am. A really cool thing about this full moon is that there will also be a partial lunar eclipse beginning at 11:07pm and ending at 1:52am. Even if you’re not a night owl, treat yourself to a walk outside in the evening and see the Buck Moon near the bright planets of Jupiter and Saturn! Want more info? Check out https://earthsky.org/?p=333122
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* Go out in the early morning and look at your yard or a patch of grass for small silky webs. These are the work of young spiders born this spring. As spiders get older their webs get bigger and more noticeable.
* Roll over a log or good-sized rock – so much is happening underneath it! How many different crawly things, colors, or textures can you see?
* Sit outside for 5 minutes with your eyes closed. Count how many different sounds you hear.