The Critter Camera – All Scavengers Invited

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The Critter Cam was setup by a group of middle-school age students during a Swamp Exploration-Wild About Wildlife program. The trail camera was positioned over the remains of a recently harvested and butchered white-tailed deer to catch the mix of scavengers that might take advantage of an easy winter treat and forest feast.

Within the first few days and nights the camera captured coyote, fox, red tail hawk, vulture, crow, red bellied woodpecker, blue jay and deer.

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Springtime Wild Edible Salad


For lunch on a recent outing I collected some fresh young purslane, trout lily, spring beauty, wild violets, red maple leaves and seeds and red bud blossoms. Together they made a fine wild edible spring salad. There was also Ostrich fern fiddle heads and leeks coming up (that had been transplanted for future harvest), lambs quarters (too young to harvest without killing the growth) and plenty of wild onion aka chives if you want to get fancy.

My favorite is the spring beauty as it has a fresh crunch and the trout lily as it reminds me of a cucumber skin flavor. The redbud also has a nice little pea flavor and the purslane is an easy to eat exceptionally nutritious addition. The garlic mustard, dandelion, onion grass I usually eat sparingly unless I have some balsamic vinegar or other dressing to flavor up some of the taste.

There are many good resources out now on wild edibles to help build up ones confidence and confirm identification, one of the recent books that I picked up was Leda Meriedith’s Northeast Foraging, 120 wild and flavorful edibles from beech plums to wineberries. The book is appropriate for all skill levels but I think it makes for an excellent beginner guide as she provides a 2-3 page spread on each of her most used, favorite edibles rather than provide information on the emergency possibility of some plant that needs to be boiled in a change of water 27 times. Samuel Thayer has two great books and a dvd and Greene Dean on Youtube goes all the way with his acronym I.T.E.M. = Identification, Time of Year, Environment and Method of Preparation.

Bird Lane Interpretive Trail

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Birding can be incredibly exciting…when you actually see birds.

Taking large groups of students out on the trail in the middle of the day when the birds are least active and the students are most active is not a recipe for success. To help introduce and give students a taste of birding we created a bird lane trail with the help of a volunteer artist.

Bird Lake Trail Sign

Local bird species were painted on marine grade plywood and coated for protection and placed out on the trails at numbered posts. Now students can practice the use of binoculars, a science tool for elementary age students and find birds before they fly away. Along with the interpretive trail there is a field guide that provides additional information on each bird species. Now if only we could get them to sing.

You do not need to paint birds to make a trail around your schoolyard. You can use pictures. Try out the Birding Beat Lesson from Flying Wild.


David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He enjoys making nature more accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at

Citizen Science & Bluebird Trails

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Citizen science volunteers work hard to encourage and maintain suitable nesting sites for bluebirds. Bluebirds around where I live have been in decline due to habitat loss and also habitat succession as the farms of yesterday have been turning back into forests removing the broad open meadows once common place. To help assist beautiful bluebirds, nest boxes are placed in the remaining open meadows.  Bluebirds like to forage in these open areas and also require nesting shelters that are out in the open. They will not nest too close to the forest edge or within likely due to competition with other bird species for those nesting shelters.  It turns out that placing two nest boxes back to back or within 15 feet helps to allow tree swallows to take up one box and bluebirds to live in the other. This relationship works because the tree swallows will defend their territory against other tree swallows but allow bluebirds to move in. Bluebirds and tree swallows tolerate one another because the bluebirds are feeding from the ground level whereas the tree swallows feed in the air with their acrobatic maneuvers as they swoop up flying insects.

Bluebirds work hard to create a suitable home for their young and will aggressively protect it.  They face increasing nesting competition due to non-native birds like European starling and house sparrow. Fortunately, when a good location is provided they can have up to three broods a season.

Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box

Tree Swallow at Becker Farm Bluebird Box

Citizen Scientists can monitor these nest boxes to help provide adequate shelter for them to bring up babies.  Nestbox monitoring sheets often include the following information that is gathered: Nest box #, Species, Nesting Activity Notes, Nest Completed Date, 1st Egg Laid, Total Eggs Laid, Hatching Date, Total Eggs Hatched, Total Fledges and Date Fledged.

We can use the data to identify the suitable habitat elements that support bluebirds, document resident bird populations, increase available shelter for bluebird species recovery and promote a stewardship ethic that cares for our natural environment.

Consider installing a single box or an entire trail of boxes during National Nest Box Week in February to have them ready for the spring season.

Bluebird Eggs in Box

Monitoring Bluebirds at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

To learn how to properly construct a bluebird house and much more, visit the North American Bluebird Society.

Share your efforts with the community : )

Share your efforts with the community : )

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