Sept. 20, 2018: Living Like Birds

The construction crew.

Birds are so present in our woods, but often go unnoticed, aside from the occasional song or visit at the feeder.   This week, we decided to think a bit like birds.  We started off with some snacks that birds might enjoy, such as grass (veggie straws), fruit (clementines) and seeds (pumpkin).  We thought about eating insects, but no one was quite ready to do that.

In our groups, we were tasked with finding as many worms (strips of colored yarn) as we could within a defined area.  We walked the perimeter of the area as a group, then split into two smaller groups to turn on our bird senses in search of worms.  There were 40 worms hiding in the forest, and we were able to find most of them with about 15 minutes of hunting.   Each team found 15 or more, so enough food to survive for the day.  We had to hone our sense of sight because the worms came in 5 different colors – some that stood out from the surroundings, and others that were better at blending in with the forest. Our worm hunt was a fun way to cooperate while thinking about the challenges of finding energy to survive.

Worms collected, it was time to talk about shelter and engage in some problem solving and construction.  Part 2 of our day entailed building a few bird houses to put up at Owl Woods.  It wasn’t easy to wait patiently for a turn to hammer, nor was it easy to hammer those nails straight into 1-by.  But we persisted, and we came out with some just right bird houses to welcome our winged neighbors as they look for shelter or a place to nest.  Now experts in construction, each child took home a birdhouse kit so they may add a birdhouse to their own yard.

Attaching a birdhouse wall.  (Photo by Britt Nielsen)


I’ll end with a few fun bird facts we discussed:

  • Bird bones are hollow which helps with flight.
  • Ostrich are the biggest birds, although they do not fly.
  • Bee Hummingbirds are the smallest birds, and many hummers can fly backwards!
  • Many birds need to eat more than their own weight (some eat 2x their own body weight!) each day to support their activities.
  • Birds have no teeth, and two chambered stomachs to help digest food.
  • Bird nests are where birds raise their young, but are not year-long homes like the ones most of us live in.

And a “one week later” Cecrophia Moth shot…

The large green caterpillar spotted last week has undergone an amazing transformation!

Sept. 13, 2018: Fire Building and Fire Eating

Snack time on The Big Rock

Following our standard snack session, we kicked off the afternoon with a few rounds of the game camouflage.

For those who have not played, it’s a variation on hide and seek.  One person has the “Camouflage”, this is kind of like being “it”. The person with Camouflage calls out “CAMOUFLAGE!!!!” so everyone can hear it. Once it is called the person who is “it” closes their eyes, and counts to ten. From this point on they cannot move their feet.

Everyone scatters and has 20 seconds to find a suitable hiding place, the ideal hiding place is one where they can see the person with the Camouflage but not vice versa.

Once the one who is “it” has finished counting, they still are unable to move their feet, but can open their eyes, and twist at the waist to search for others.  They call out people who they see and their hiding spots.  When they can see no one else, they let others know they are counting again (to 10 this time) and all hiders must move closer to the person who is it.  The game repeats until all hiders are found, or until one of those hiding is able to tag the person who is “it”.

Our next adventure was to prepare to build small fires. We reviewed the materials we needed for the fire with an edible activity.  Each child had the chance to build a fire, starting with dried cranberries (rocks for the fire ring), shredded carrots (tinder), pretzels (kindling), and pirate’s booty (fuel).  The fires were burned quickly by young metabolisms!


After fetching water, we repeated the activity on a slightly larger scale with materials we found nearby.  All who were interested had the chance to practice lighting a match as we lit the fire, which we fed with small twigs before extinguishing.

The final highlight of the day was spotting a Cecrophia moth near our lower fire pit.  This beautiful creature was 4-5″ long, bright green, and covered with colorful spines.  It was just beginning to spin its winter resting place when we discovered it.  The first picture was taken on a Thursday afternoon (by Britt Nielsen) the second just a day and a half later on Saturday morning.

Hyalophora cecropia
First signs of silk, evidence of the start of creating its cocoon on Thursday 9/13


Hyalophora cecropia on Saturday 9/15.

Sept. 6, 2018: We Are Back

Many Mushrooms

It is exciting to have young friends back for another season of Owl Woods!

We spent our first week getting to know each other, familiarizing ourselves with routines and expectations, and exploring the trails, ponds, and streams.

Fungus became the unplanned theme of the day.  We found many fungus among us, in all shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as a few fall flowers.  We also played in the brook, rock hopped up the streambed, built dams, and found a crayfish and a salamander.  It was a great first day of fall adventures.


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Week 9 – Trail Crew!

By Johannes Suppan

This week at Owl Woods we continued our adventures, practicing outdoors skills and engaging in some very practical team building activities. Our themes for the day were bridge construction, understanding the cardinal directions, and using our senses to find our way.

Once again, the weather was cool and damp.  Everyone geared up in boots, raincoats and rain pants and headed to the backyard to play a game. Small groups of children were asked to gather sticks to mark the four cardinal directions. Before too long, we had stick letters (N,S,E,W) constructed on the grass to make a giant compass. We talked about daily and seasonal patterns related to each direction: that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, birds fly south for winter, etc.  The children then followed our instructions, running and hopping back and forth, to and from each direction.

The Bridge Before

After all that running about, we shared the plans for the rest of the afternoon and divided into our groups.  One group headed to a bridge that needed to be repaired. They discussed careful use of hammers and nails, being aware of one’s surroundings and communicating with each other.

The group worked together to pull nails from and remove the old decking boards, lay the new planks down, and drill holes where the new nails would be set (to make pounding them in a bit easier.)  With varying degrees of adult assistance, everyone got a chance to take a nail out, use the power drill, and hammer some nails into the new bridge decking.  The children took turns with a variety of jobs, transporting old and new planks, and holding planks in place to help set the nails. It was fun for all of us to work together on this project and see real results!

Our construction crew.
Hammering in the new deck boards

The other group ventured to our rain shelter for some activities related to maps and wayfinding.   We talked about maps, their purpose, and reasons we might use them.  We then took a shot at making 3-D maps of Owl Woods. Some children were more engaged in this activity than others, constructing key elements of our space with sticks, leaves, pine cones, or simply by drawing in the dirt.  Eventually we worked as a team, constructing a tarp, zip line, and fire pit on mini scale.

We then tried out an activity called Caterpillar. Everyone wears a blindfold and holds on to the shoulders of the person in front of them. An adult leads the group for some distance, stopping at different trees and natural objects. The children used senses other than sight to try to picture and remember what natural objects they passed on their journey.  They then removed blind folds and had to try and find the stopping points they were led to, and to return to their starting point.

Our Caterpillar finding its way.

About mid way through, our groups traded places, providing everyone a chance with each activity.

Week 8 – Rainy Scavenger Hunt

By Johannes Suppan

This week we faced the elements and adventured in the rain. Despite the coolest weather we’ve seen yet this fall, and steady precipitation, our owlets had great attitudes and lots of fun.  Our goals for the day were to complete a scavenger hunt, and to stay warm and happy. The scavenger hunt sent us in search of a variety of natural objects, ranging from insects and animal tracks, to leaves, moss, and ferns.

As all creatures do, we practiced our own adaptation processes today.  Before we started the scavenger hunt we fueled up on snacks and layered up for the weather with rain boots, extra socks, hats, and rain coats.  We prepared for our outing in the garage, a much less aesthetically pleasing setting than our normal spot on a giant boulder.  However, the kiddos found a big box fort that they quickly imagined into a market for selling snacks.  Everyone joined in and some became customers, using maple leaves as money to purchase clementines and granola bars.

Walking carefully on the wet “Wacky Bridge.”

Once we had everyone dressed in rain gear, we broke into groups and ventured through the forest. The children really enjoyed the activity and worked together to find the objects for the scavenger hunt. We talked about which natural objects might be found near each other, like moss, tree trunks, and rocks. We looked up at different trees to see if there were pinecones or acorns. This activity helped us tune into our senses and really observe our surroundings.

Who’s work is this, scraping away the tree bark?  We think it may be a a bear marking.

We explored and searched for everything on the list for over an hour before wet fingers started to feel uncomfortably cold (mitten time is coming soon).  We kept moving on the trail and did jumping jacks and other exercises to warm our bodies.

Although the children did not know at the outset, we also had a variety of arts and crafts set up inside, in case warming up was necessary to make the day successful.  There were giant tree cookies to decorate, sticks, pine cones, ferns, and acorns to make imprints, and yarn, twin, and rubber bands to attach things together.  We shed our wet layers, then created pictures, mobiles, dreamcatchers, and playdough nature-scapes for the last 30 minutes of our time together.

Checking out the upper beaver pond and looking for dams and lodges. The beavers have returned and the water has been rising this fall.