Whew! I feel like I’m finally coming up for air after the past month. Every summer for the past 3 years, I’ve taught a few weeks of summer camp. It’s invigorating, fun, challenging, and well, exhausting. We’ve been chewed on by chiggers, baked in the heat and humidity, stalked by mosquitoes, and faced the hazards of poison ivy, stinging nettles, and ticks, discovering special places and amazing wildlife. I love giving kids the opportunity to experience nature up-close-and-personal, and summer is a great time of year for that. Plants are in bloom, insects are plentiful, and there are lots of chances to see all kinds of wildlife in action.
Sometimes, animals surprise us with their antics or choices of habitat. A mama mallard duck decided to nest by the side of a building in a busy shopping center, hidden only by a small shrub about 18 inches tall! I could see 2 little fuzzy ducklings, who quickly took shelter under her wing when I snapped the picture. I was also able to take note of a third fuzzy little face and two whole eggs that were waiting for the right moment to hatch. Ducks leave the nest within a few hours of hatching and would need to make their way across the parking lot and busy highway to get to a nearby pond. The staff at the local restaurant was concerned for the safety of the duck family, and kept a watchful eye on her all evening in case she needed an escort to move her brood. They didn’t leave in the evening, but apparently mama duck moved her brood overnight, so hopefully they reached the pond safely!
My adventures over the last week took my group up to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum right near the Philadelphia Airport. If you’ve never visited there, I highly recommend it, especially if you love birding. There were herons, egrets, osprey, and barn swallows easily visible, and we even got a visit with a fuzzy barn swallow fledgling who had been testing out his wings and landed right next to the trail! There were also plenty of turtles to be seen as well as some green frogs, and it’s a fabulous place for wildlife photography. They have some free programs available, and my group got to try their hand at fishing. One kid caught a good-sized catfish, and that really made our day! Our guide deftly handled the removal of the hook, avoiding the catfish’s sharp fins. We also got a gander at some beautiful marshmallow in bloom all over the refuge. On Friday, I was ecstatic when one of my campers asked what this strange white plant was. He had discovered Indian Pipe (also known as Ghost Plant or Corpse Plant) in bloom, a rare treasure in this area. This little beauty lacks chlorophyll, and is actually a flowering plant in the blueberry family. People stumble upon it, thinking it must be a fungus because it’s not green. Interestingly, this plant grows only in rich forest areas and is parasitic in nature, getting its nutrients by feeding off mycorrhizal fungus. The mycorrhizal fungus is attached to a nearby photosynthetic tree, feeding off the tree, but also aiding the tree in absorption of water and essential minerals. Indian Pipe is a food source for small bumble bees, and while beautiful, please don’t pick this rare beauty, as it wilts and turns black quickly anyway! Here’s a link to an interesting Native American story of the origin of this flower: http://www.angelfire.com/ny5/spiritsong/IndianPipePlant.html
This is an amazing time of year to be outside, and we’ve even thankfully had a few mild and less humid days! I hope you get the chance to bask in the sunshine, breathe in the blossoms, be serenaded by the summer chorus, and fill your eyes with all the colors of the landscape at this time of year!
Love & Light,