Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Discover Your Parks and Public Lands this August with VINS

by Anna Autilio
Lead, Environmental Educator

In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” August’s call to action is to discover your parks and public lands, and help protect these havens for both birds and people…

Many Vermonters are familiar with our state park system, but did you know that the VINS Nature Center connects directly to Quechee State Park? From our Welcome Center you can walk down through a beautiful forested landscape back through geologic history to the bottom of the Vermont’s deepest gorge—our “little Grand Canyon”!
The Quechee Gorge formed 13,000 years ago by a sudden rush of water draining from Glacial Lake Hitchcock, which at the time covered nearly half the state. It is 165 feet deep and cradles the flow of the Ottauquechee River. It is known to be the deepest gorge in Vermont, and many geologists marvel at the rare rock formations visible in the slanting, striated walls of the gorge.

When humans came to Quechee, a bridge was built over the gorge for trains to pass from east to west. The bridge, built in 1911 and adapted for use by motorcars in 1933, still stands over the gorge today represents Vermont’s oldest surviving steel arch bridge.

Quechee State Park was established in 1965 to encourage visitors to travel to see this natural, geologic marvel. It is one of 55 state parks in Vermont, whose recreational trails offer a great opportunity for both families new to exploring their local natural ecosystems and rugged outdoors-people looking for a real hike. From 1933 to 1942, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to making Vermont state parks more accessible to the public, including planting 1.2 billion tree seedlings over 1.2 million acres of state land. Vermont’s State Parks saw over 1 million visitors in 2015.

Exploring your public lands is a great idea for this summer. Get closer to the unique flora and fauna of your region in these places that belong to all of us equally. Plan a picnic, a birding trip, wading in the water, or a lazy afternoon absorbing the woods in your local state park this weekend!

Then during the school year, schedule a field trip for your class to VINS to learn more about the Quechee Gorge. VINS Science Educators lead educational 1.5-hour hiking trips down to the bottom and back through geologic time!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

VINS and iNaturalist

by Anna Autilio
Lead Environmental Educator

Have you gotten into iNaturalist yet? At VINS, this citizen science project has become a favorite downtime activity for our staff. When someone spots a new wildflower blooming in the meadow, you can see at least a few of us up there with our phones out, taking pictures to document the sighting for iNaturalist. 

Using an iPad in the meadow to observe Wild Bergamot.
So what is iNaturalist? iNaturalist is "an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature...You can use it to record your own observations, get help with identifications, collaborate with others to collect this kind of information for a common purpose, or access the observational data collected by iNaturalist users." It's primary goal is to connect people to nature, and secondary goal is to create a scientifically valuable biodiversity database. 

Since April 2017, VINS has had its own project on the website, the VINS Campus Index. Our aim is to create an inventory of all wild species found living at the VINS nature center, and encourage our visitors to notice and document life all around them. 

Just last week we sailed past our recent goal of documenting 250 wildlife species at VINS, and now have 262 species identified onsite by both visitors and staff, all in just 16 months of observing.

A big thanks go to everyone who helped flesh out our knowledge of the local flora and fauna (and special congrats to Linda Conrad who documented the most of any observer--100 species!). Here is the breakdown of our stats thus far:
A Pickerel Frog observed at VINS for iNaturalist.

Total Observations: 599 
Total Species: 262
Total Observers: 36
Most Observed Species: Common Snapping Turtle
Plant Species: 121 (including Butterfly Milkweed)
Insect Species: 67 (including Snowberry Clearwing)
Bird Species: 36 (including Great Horned Owl)
Mushroom Species: 16 (including Common Morel)
Mammal Species: 13 (including River Otter)
Amphibian Species: 5 (including Pickerel Frog)
Reptile Species: 4 (including Milk Snake)

...and with only 30 introduced species documented, 88% of our species are native!

Well done folks! For those of you who haven't joined in the fun yet, join and observe for free at inaturalist.org!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Take a Child to Nature This July

By Anna Autilio
Lead Environmental Educator

In 2018, we mark the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird-protection law ever passed. In honor of this milestone, nature lovers around the world are joining forces to celebrate 2018 as the “Year of the Bird.” July’s call to action is to introduce a child to nature and build their love for wild animals and landscapes…

The first step in my career as an environmental educator began at a very young age. I was 11 years old when I attended a program about owls late one night at our local nature center, and I was immediately hooked. Fifteen years later, the environmental ethic that I first started learning then has become such an important part of me that I have made a career of passing on my love and knowledge for the wild world on to others.

That moment of inspiration is out there for everyone—you just have to go and find it! Discover something new together with your family this summer. Here are a few ideas for getting kids excited to be outside in nature:

  1. Do some Citizen Science. Anyone can be a scientist, especially with long-running citizen science projects like iNaturalist and eBird, that allow you to document the cool things you find in nature and send your observations to biologists around the world. What’s that caterpillar on the sidewalk? iNaturalist’s community can even help you identify the animals and plants around you!

  1. Make a habitat for wildlife. Your backyard has the potential to be a perfect habitat for wild species. With the right food, water, shelter, and space, you can arrange even a small corner of your yard to be a friendly home to birds and other wildlife.

  1. Create a nature journal. Feeling artistic? Put together a few pieces of paper with a long rubber band, and find something interesting to draw. It doesn’t have to be a perfect rendering, just a sketch to remember the shape and color or your natural ecosystem.

  1. Cool off and discover an underwater world. Have a stream or pond nearby? Plan an adventure and visit your local freshwater ecosystem! See who you can find hiding out under rocks in the stream, or sit quietly and count how many birds you can find.

  1. Build something big! Balance rocks on top of one another to make a tall tower, or construct a mud house for a toad. Gather together some bark, leaves, twigs, and pine needles and create your own “fairy” house in your backyard!

  1. Visit your local Nature Center! Whether it’s learning about nesting birds, hiking the trails, or talking to a naturalist, nature centers have so much to offer kids who want to learn and explore. Come see what it’s all about!
 Share your ideas for fun outside with us, or come visit VINS!