Friday, September 30, 2016

Science outside the classroom

The 2016-17 School Year has started and I am fully immersed in programs.  I currently have more than 400 programs scheduled this year, and am still scheduling a few programs here and there.  Most of these programs are held in the classroom, but when the weather is nice during the first few weeks of the school year, and again during the last few weeks of the school year, I am able schedule many outdoor programs.

Last Thursday (22 September), two classrooms of sixth grade students from Fancher Elementary met me at Mill Pond Park to learn about botany.  I have worked with most of these students before - some of them have seen me every year since third grade.  After talking about how plants can be classified based on physical characteristics (such as leaf type and arrangement), and being given some identification sheets, the students were turned loose with the mission to draw and describe two wildflowers and the leaves of two different trees.

Here are a few photographs of the students and their work.

An identification sheet I gave the students

The backside of the ID sheet
Getting outside is always better than sitting in the classroom.

Drawing a maple leaf from life
Very detailed drawings
Coloring and labeling

Another student's worksheet

Sixth grade students color and label their drawings

Pointing out the characteristics of a wildflower

Filling out a worksheet

Fancher students working along a retaining wall at Mill Pond Park

This week, I met with third grade students at Vowles elementary to do a similar activity - Vowles elementary has its own small woodlot adjacent to the school grounds.  This time the students were only asked to draw and describe the leaves from four trees (no wildflowers).  As an additional activity, they also had to determine the diameter of several living tree.

Last week, in the classroom we had classified preserved leaves and measure the diameter of sections of tree trunks (also called tree cookies - mine are more like full sized pies than cookies).  Now the students learned how to measure the circumference of the tree and divide that by pi (3.14) to determine the diameter.  They were also tasked with removing any trash that they found in the woods (but not broken glass).

I didn't take nearly as many pictures of the 3rd graders as I did of the the sixth graders.  The younger students required a lot more help and guidance.  In fact, I only managed to get my camera out for one of three classes - a fourth class was cancelled due to the weather.

A group multitasking - students measure the circumference and pick up trash at the same time

Calculating the diameter

A student's worksheet

Students hard at work

Students search for leaves to identify and draw

Vowles Elementary teacher Johanna Raymond works with a group of her students

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Arachnophobes beware!

Last week while waiting for a group of students at Mill Pond Park, I noticed a large web strung between several late summer wildflowers.  Looking a little bit closer, I found this beauty...

She is a female Shamrock Orb Weaver (Araneus trifolium).  This species can be found across most of the United States and Canada.  Females of this species are quite large.  Her abdomen probably measured 1 to 1.25 inches across.

Unfortunately, she won't live much longer.  This species only lives for a single year.  Females lay eggs in the fall.  The eggs hatch the following spring.  The young spiders grow to adulthood during the summer.  They reproduce and then die when the temperature drops below freezing. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #248 through #251

I'm catching up on my Wildflowers of 2016 list.  On Tuesday September 13th, during a trip to Chipp-A-Waters Park, I added three species to my list.  This brought my number of species for the year up to two hundred fifty, the goal that I had originally set for myself for the year.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #248 Cheerful Sunflower (Helianthus x laetiflorus)

My first flower of the day was one that stumped me during my Wildflowers of 2014 project.  It was obviously a sunflower, but it didn't quite fit the descriptions of any of the sunflowers found on the Michigan Flora website.  The description of the Stiff Sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) mentioned a hybrid with Jerusalem Artichoke (H. tuberosus).  This hybrid is known as the Cheerful Sunflower (Helianthus x laetiflorus).  After researching this plant on several websites, I decided that this was probably my mystery sunflower.

Cheerful Sunflower - a hybrid of Jerusalem Artichoke and Stiff Sunflower

Cheerful Sunflower, which is also known as Hybrid Prairie Sunflower and Mountain Sunflower, is a perennial that reaches heights of 1 1/2 to 8 feet.  It has opposite leaves.  The leaves and stalk are both hairy.  The stalk varies in color from green to purple.

Plants produce one to several flowers.  The flowers consist of a central disc surrounded by 10 to 20+ rays (petals).  The rays are bright yellow and the disc may be a darker yellow or brown or purplish.

Cheerful Sunflower - a closer view of the flower

Everything that I could find about this sunflower seemed to fit my mystery plants so I am calling it a Cheerful Sunflower.  I almost didn't get the opportunity to find this plant this year.  There is a single patch of it growing at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  The city Park's Department has been using this location to dump soil and other debris this year and has partially covered this colony.  Those plants that did manage to emerge through the soil, were significantly shorter than those I found in 2014.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #249 Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium)

A colony of Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium)

My second species of the day was Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium).  Also known by the names Fragrant Cudweed and Old-field Balsam, this species is found throughout the southern two-thirds of the Lower Peninsula, around Grand Traverse Bay, and in six Upper Peninsula counties.  Nationally, it can be found in every state east of line running from Minnesota to central Texas.  It also native to the Provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.

Sweet Everlasting - note whitish stems and flowers

Sweet Everlasting prefers dry open habitats such as fields, prairies, and roadsides.  It does not do well in locations with a lot of competition from other plants, but often forms extensive colonies where it is found.  The plant can reach heights of 2 1/2 feet.  It has both basal and alternate leaves.  The stems and are grey-green or white in color and covered with short dense hairs.  The narrow leaves are also hairy, with a greenish upper surface and a grey-green/white colored lower surface.  The flowers of this plant grow in a flat-topped structure known as a corymb.  Individual flowers are small (about 1/8 inch across), white, and lack petals.

Sweet Everlasting flowers
Wildflowers of 2016 - #250 Frost Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum)

Frost Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum)

My third flower of the day was Frost Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum).  This is one of many species of Michigan asters with small white flowers.   In February 2014 I wrote a post about how to tell this species from other small, many-flowered Asters - please check here for more information.

Frost Aster has many small white flowers and many small leaves

Wildflowers of 2016 - #251 Arrow-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum urophyllum)

On Thursday, September 22nd I added one additional species to my list - Arrow-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum urophyllum).  This species was formerly known as Aster sagittifolius.

Arrow-leaved Asters and goldenrods at Mill Pond Park

Arrow-leafed Aster plants grow from 1 to 3 feet in height.  This plant is considered an "upland" species.  It grows in dry soils in meadows, savannas, open woodlands and along woodland edges.  It is found across the eastern half of the United States and into Ontario.  In Michigan, it is found in most of the counties in the Lower Peninsula and in scattered locations in the Upper Peninsula.

Arrow-leaved Aster growing on a dry wooded slope at Mill Pond Park

As the plant's name suggests, its leaves are commonly shaped like arrowheads with a shallowly notched.  The leaves may also be lanceolate (shaped like a lance head) or oval in shape.  The margins of the leaves are lined with shallow serrations.  The leaf petioles (stems) feature prominent wings.

Leaf of an Arrow-leaved Aster - note winged stem

The flowers of the Arrow-leaved Aster are typical of Asters, with a yellow (turning purple with age) central disc surrounded by short 8 to 15 short rays.  The rays are typically white, but may on rare occasions be pale blue or lavender.  The flowers are arranged in a narrow pyramid (or diamond) shaped panicle with branched that grow upward from the central stalk.

A closer view of the Arrow-leaved Aster

At this point the 2016 wildflower season is beginning to draw to a close.  There are still many flowers blooming and they will continue to bloom until killed by frost, but few new species will be blooming.  That being said, I still think that I can find two or three more new species with a little effort.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Field Trip - Pyramid Point Hiking Trail

Shara and I spent the weekend camping near Traverse City.  On Saturday (24 SEP), we went to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and hiked a section of the Pyramid Point Trail.  This popular trail segment leads to a bluff that rises 300 feet above Lake Michigan.  The trail to this overlook measures about 0.6 miles one way (for a 1.2 mile round trip).  The total elevation change of this trail is more than 200 feet, with about 140 feet of that coming in the final 0.2 miles of the climb.  If you are not used to climbing hills it can be a challenge, but the view is entirely worth the effort.

The trail leads upward

The trail passes though a mixed hardwood forest - including stands of birch

Shara stops to photograph something along the trail

Pay attention to the sign!

Tired, but proud, the view is totally worth it

Me with North Manitou Island in the background

The South Manitou Island lighthouse can be seen on the horizon at the left

The lake is 300 feet down from the top of the bluff!

Looking east along the bluff

A wider angle view of the horizon to the northwest

North Manitou Island - you see the dunes on the island's southwest side

Another view of the eastern horizon

Heading back down the trail

The Pyramid Point Trail is just one of thirteen named trails within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore - not counting the trails on the Manitou Islands.  Sleeping Bear Dunes is located about 2 hours 15 minutes from Mid-Michigan.  There is a fee for using the park. Currently, a 7-day vehicle pass costs $15 or an annual pass can be purchased for $30.  There is also a pass for people entering the park on foot or by bicycle ($7 for 7 days).  Check the calendar, there are several fee-free days throughout the year - the next one is scheduled for Veterans Day (November 11th).

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Happy Autumn!

Fall at Mission Creek Woodland Park (Oct 2012)

Today is the Autumnal Equinox - or the day that the seasons change from Summer to Fall.  Officially the season changes for Mid-Michigan at 10:21AM (EDT). 

On this date, the hours of daylight and night are roughly equal.  The hours of daylight will decrease from now until the Winter Solstice on December 21st when there will only be 9 hours 2 minutes of daylight, before beginning to increase again to approximately 12 hours on the Spring Equinox and 15 hours 20 minutes on the Summer Solstice.

The weather this weekend is supposed to be beautiful, with highs near 70 degrees and nighttime lows near 50.  It should be a great time to go out and explore one of our many local parks and preserves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Red sky in morning...

An approaching storm front meant that this morning's sunrise was tinted in shades of red and orange.