2020 Mt. Ararat Student Research Enriches Understanding of the Preserve

This fall, every Thursday at 9:05 am, high school students spilled out of the school bus, rushed to the Ecology Center to gather equipment, put on boots/waders as needed, and headed to research sites to gather data. With only an hour and a half each week to collect their data, this is no small feat!

Working in seven small groups, Glenn Evans’ Honors Biology students from Mt Ararat High School formulated research questions on a range of topics and collected data for eight weeks. 

Projects included heath ecology, Cathance River water quality, invertebrate diversity in the Cathance River, cattail dieback in the fishless pond, large mammals, and dragon/damsel flies.

In addition to the guidance of their teacher, projects were mentored by local specialists, including Fred Cichocki of Chewonki, Kelly Waddle and Steve Pelletier of Stantec, David Reed, Scott Libby of Battelle, Dave Courtemanch and Molly Payne Wynne of The Nature Conservancy, and Liz Hertz.

Students are analyzing the data and will organize their findings into posters that will be presented on January 28, 2020 at 6:00 pm at the Topsham Public Library. Join us to hear their findings and to support the spirit of science inquiry in the next generation.

Their findings will enrich our understanding of the precious natural resources in our community and will be added to a growing database of biological and environmental information about the Preserve. 

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Preschoolers Revel in Over and Under the Snow

Families trickled down the gravel road at the pace of preschoolers. Which is to say, slowly!  The little ones discovered slick icy patches to wiggle and “skate” on. A few found walking sticks for their upcoming adventure in the woods.

It was a crisp winter morning in December, and CREA was hosting its first guided Storywalk® for Preschoolers. (One learns that when you host an event for families with preschoolers, they tend to arrive a few minutes late.)

Families gathered inside the Ecology Center while waiting for everyone to arrive. Inside, little voices echoed, “Wow!” and “What’s that?” and “Can I touch that?”

Program host Jenny Mueller introduced families to CREA’s amazing collection of native bird and animal specimens at the Ecology Center, then gave them the option of exploring indoors via a quick scavenger hunt.

Patrick, an older sibling, took on the challenge right away. Within a few minutes he had found every item and was helping younger children find things on the list.

Once everyone arrived, the group ‘geared up’ and headed to the StoryWalk®’s first pages at the beginning of the Barnes Leap Trail. Jenny invited families to walk and read the StoryWalk® pages as a group.

Caregivers and parents joined Jenny enthusiastically – taking turns to read pages, make animal sounds, and enjoy the story together. Jenny modeled for caregivers how to reinforce information presented in the story, reminding the littles to look for animal tracks and burrow entrances (i.e. holes) in the snow such as those shown in the story.

The group meandered down Barnes Leap Trail, reading – laughing – and running (well, the littles were running…) to each story easel along the trail. The book Over and Under the Snow taught the group about the secret world of squirrels, snowshoe hares, bears, bullfrogs, and other animals who live safe and warm under the snow in winter.

Midway down the trail, Jenny encouraged everyone to put on their “deer ears,” cupping hands around ears to hear more like our woodland friends. “Can you hear better with deer ears?” she asked? “Yes!” “What can you hear now that you couldn’t before?” “The river!” a four-year-old boy exclaimed, then took off down the trail to find it.

After finishing the book, the group gathered at Barnes Leap to look over the rushing Cathance River, wild from a rain and snow. How many unique ice formations could the littles spot on overhanging rocks?

Jenny led the group back via a different route that provided more views of the Cathance River plus the fun of negotiating roots and rocks on the more rugged Cathance River Trail. The littles were delighted to see the rushing water, ice pancakes, and bright orange jelly fungus.

After an hour out on the trails, the group returned to the Ecology Center, and was welcomed by its warm pellet stove and a hot kettle ready to make cocoa for all. Families stayed for a snack and warm up while guessing what animals CREA pelts came from.

Several snuggled on the couch to read winter-themed, nature-based picture books from the Ecology Center library, and play with animal puppets.

The takeaway from this event is that children love to be outdoors in any season! While they may be shy at first, they quickly revel in the joy of discovery with their peers.

CREA will be hosting these StoryWalks® for preschoolers quarterly, whenever a new book is installed on the storyboards. Look for it on the Events page on the CREA website: https://creamaine.org/events/.

In the meantime, bring your littles to enjoy our winter StoryWalk® book, Over and Under the Snow! Storyboards start just past the Ecology Center at the beginning of the Barnes Leap Trail.

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What is a ‘Puffling,’ Anyway?

Puffin populations in Maine are healthy today, but that’s a relatively recent development as we learned from Susie Meadows, 

CREA’s featured speaker at Topsham Public Library in November. Manager of the Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland, Susie described the drastic decline of puffins and other seabirds prior to 1918 due to overharvesting – principally for feathers. Project Puffin was started by the National Audubon Society in 1973 as an effort to learn how to restore puffins to historic nesting islands.

It wasn’t until 1981 that puffin pairs started breeding on Eastern Egg Rock, but much was learned about seabird restoration along the way. In 1973, very young puffins were brought from Newfoundland to Eastern Egg Rock. The young age was necessary so the ‘pufflings’ (yes, that’s what juvenile puffins are called!) would imprint on the island and return later to breed. Pufflings were hand-fed in burrows by volunteers for six weeks, then headed to the open ocean for two to three years as is their custom.

When the puffins did not show up to nest on Eastern Egg as hoped for, project leaders tried different tactics to attract them, including mirrors, decoys, and puffin calls, theorizing that they needed to create an environment that was socially appealing. The presence of other puffins signals the presence of food sources and safety in numbers.

In 1981, four puffin pairs successfully raised pufflings on Eastern Egg and the population has since grown to over 150 pairs. Restoration efforts using the same techniques began on Seal Island in 1984 and pairs began breeding there only eight years later. Five hundred pairs now occupy Seal Island.

The social attraction techniques developed in the Puffin Project have since been used to restore seabird populations to locations all over the world, including Terns, Common Murres, Bermuda Petrels, and the Short-Tailed Albatrosses (Japan). Some of these species had been believed extinct, so the techniques developed to restore puffins in Maine proved to be invaluable in restoring other very vulnerable seabird populations.

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