Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Invisible Ink-a guest blog by Herb Broda

Photo from the Appalachian Mountain Club's Web Site
 I will often reference other blogs that are relevent to the topic of outdoor, environmental and/or wildlife education here.  It's my pleasure today to reference one of my favorite people, Herb Broda with Ashland University, and his recent post on the Children and Nature Network's Blog.  Herb looks at how changes in children's literature are unfortunately a reflection of the decline in time spent outdoors by today's youth.  Enjoy!

Invisible Ink: Is the Natural World Disappearing from Children's Books and Education?

Herbert W. Broda is a professor of education at Ashland University in Ohio. He is the author of "Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning: Using the Outdoors as an Instructional Tool" and "Moving the Classroom Outdoors: Schoolyard-Enhanced Learning in Action." He is also a leader of the Children & Nature Network's Natural Teachers Initiative.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March Madness Has Gone Wild!

My husband and I are big NCAA basketball fans, him more so than me.  He keeps track of all the teams, fills out his brackets, and is at one of the tournament games as I write this.  I get to go with him on Sunday and I'm very excited. 

I didn't get a chance to fill out a bracket this year, but as we were discussing some of the match ups and potential match ups for Sunday, I noticed a theme.  There are a huge number of teams in the tournament this year that have wildlife-related mascots.  Now, I realize that if you're not a wildlife geek like me, you may not have picked up on this. But I did and, after some investigating today, here's what I found.  Out of the 64 teams in the tournament, almost half (30) have a wildlife-related mascot.  Here's a more specific breakdown of those 30*:
  • 9 are characterized as some type of non-domesticated feline, aka Wildcats (3), Cougars, Bobcats, Tigers (2), or Catamounts. And throw in the Bearcats too if you want, I'm not sure where to put them.
  • 5 are characterized as some type of raptor, aka Golden Eagles (2), Mountain Hawks, Owls, and if you want, you can put the Jayhawks in there too.
  • 3 are characterized as some type of bear, aka Bruins, Grizzlies and, uh, Bears.
  • 3 are characterized as some type of songbird, aka Cardinals, Blackbirds, and Bluejays.
  • 2 are characterized as some type of wolf, aka Lobos (Spanish for wolf) and Wolfpack.
  • 2 are the Rams with mascots that look like Big Horn Sheep.
  • 2 are in the Mustelid Family with the Wolverines and the Badgers (as a Buckeye graduate, that was really hard to type.)
  • Finally, there are 1 of each of the following wild critters to cheer for: Jackrabbits, Gators, and Buffalos.
Why would I take the time to add all of this up?  It's because I think, culturally speaking, it shows the value and the esteem with which we, as a society, hold these animals.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think that the Kentucky Wildcats are going to go the whole nine yards simply because of their name.  But, if you're going to pick something to be a mascot, what kinds of characteristics do you want your mascot to embody?  Strength, fearlessness, beauty, courage, etc.  We tend to apply these anthropomorphic characteristics to wild animals because as we learn about their habits, we learn to respect them and maybe even fear them a little bit.  But, regardless of how you feel about an animal, picking it as a mascot can be a sign of respect and admiration. 

By the way, if you're sitting there wondering what is so powerful and intimidating about a cardinal, ask the caterpillar that it was trying to eat this morning.  Or ask the wildlife rehabilitator that is nursing a bite from its powerful beak.

As we move forward in the tournament, there have been some match ups that mimic real life, and some that do not.  For example, a Badger could never defeat a Grizzly in real life.  And a Golden Eagle probably couldn't whip a Couger.  However, a Bear could definitely take it to a Jackrabbit and a Golden Eagle would have its talons full with trying to take down a Wildcat.  So here's to the excitement and drama that is wildlife both on the court and out in the field.  And may the best critter win! 

Personally, tonight I'm hoping that the Memphis Tigers beat up the St. Louis University Billikens because WHAT THE HECK IS A BILLIKEN? Look it up! I did, and no offense to any of you Billikens out there, but if your mascot requires a full page definition, you might want to think about picking a new mascot.

Have fun everyone and Go Bucks!

(*If you're doing the math and you find I've only counted 29, that's because I threw in the Buckeyes because they can take out anything as a poisonous nut. ;-p)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Vernalpalooza! The Crazy World that Lies Beneath!

Spotted Salamander--Photo by Kipp Brown

Most days, I think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world.  I get to help people learn about wild animals.  It's fun, rewarding and I thoroughly enjoy it.  But once in awhile, even I get amazed at how cool my job is. 

I had the good fortune to host a workshop about vernal pools a couple weeks ago down at Shawnee State Park Lodge called Vernalpalooza.  We invited around 40 educators from across Ohio to come down for three days to learn about and experience the facinating world that is one of our most unique and, unfortunately, declining habitats in the state. 

For those that don't know, vernal pools are small, pocket wetlands that are usually found within woodland areas and only hold water in the spring and early summer, hence the term vernal.  They are free of fish, can be ground water or surface water fed, and are the nurseries to dozens of species of frogs, salamanders, aquatic invertebrates, and more.  On warm, early spring nights, especially if it's raining, you can find salamanders migrating en mass to these pools to breed.  In some parts of the state, roads are closed to traffic to minimize damage to these populations from vehicle traffic.

The objective of the workshop was for the participants to not only learn about vernal pools, but how to construct them in areas that could be used for educational purposes.  We had some outstanding and extremely knowledgeable instructors on topics such as vernal pool construction, vernal pool ecology, vernal pool monitoring, funding, collection and monitoring permits, and linkages to state education standards.  Overall, I think the participants learned a lot about these fragile and critical habitats and how to use them for education in a safe and ethical manner.

Exploring the pools-Photos by Jim McCormac
But, the best part for me was the field trip! We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to access the General Electric Jet Engine Testing Grounds in Adams County.  This 7,000 acre property is literally out in the middle of nowhere.  And, fortunately, it has been left alone for the most part on the areas that are not used by GE.  So, there are some phenomenal examples of vernal pools that we were able to explore.  We first went to a natural pool that was absolutely amazing.  You couldn't move without seeing spotted salamanders and their egg masses, some lingering Jefferson's and their egg masses, wood frogs and egg masses, fairy shrimp, and we were even fortunate to find a fairly rare four-toed salamander hiding under the moss.  The second pool was a constructed pool and it was just as interesting, although not as productive.  It was significantly younger in age than the first pool, but you could tell it was well on its way to becoming prime habitat for the area.  It was a tremendous exploration and you could hear everyone's excitement in their voices as they walked around and found all these treasures.  Some squealed with delight, others laughed with pure joy.  As a coordinator, it was so amazing to watch the sheer joy on the participant's faces.  For me, that was the best part.  Check that, I have THE coolest job in the world!

Here are some photos from the workshop.  If you'd like more information about our upcoming workshops, sign up for our E-Newsletter online at  Be sure to select the Educator Edition. 

Wood Frog eggs
Photo by Jim McCormac

The Entire Crew
Photo by Kipp Brown

Spotted Salamander--Photo by Jim McCormac