• Naturalist Notes — December, 2018

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    December is here and the days just keep getting shorter. The phenomenon of long days in the summer and shorter ones in the winter is one that we learn to live with, but it’s the real calendar for the comings, goings, and doings of Nature.

    While quite a few organisms base their seasonal cycles of sprouting, flowering, hibernation and mating on temperature, many can’t trust the vagaries of temperature, and use day length as a much more reliable indicator of what is in store for them or their progeny. Snowstorms in October and 65 degree days in January are very real possibilities, and could easily trick plants and animals into thinking that the seasons are farther along than they really are; sometimes with deadly results. Snapping out of dormancy too soon, when there are still months of winter left could be catastrophic!

    Once we get into January and bitter weather is really upon us, keep your chin up: it might be cold and wintry, but the days will just keep getting longer!

    See you on the trails,

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: November, 2018

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

         The first time I started a fire with two sticks and a small pile of tinder it changed my life. My interest in the skills of our ancestors started when I was a small boy. I had learned that there were people who lived in the forest, speared fish, ate berries and lived in houses made of bark, and my quest to learn the skills that made primitive life possible began. Archeologists have evidence to show that the ancient art of making fire by friction can be traced back 20,000 years. The species of plants used and the actual techniques varied around the world but the basics were the same- two pieces of wood were vigorously rubbed or spun against each other producing heat and a fine powder of pulverized wood called char. Once this char reaches 450 degrees Fahrenheit it can start to smolder and turn in to a small glowing coal. This coal can be coaxed into flame by placing it on a pile of dry fibrous tinder like bark, leaves or grass, and carefully blowing on it to feed the fire-to-be the oxygen it needs. I have gone through these steps and created fire hundreds of times during the many years I spent honing this skill, and while demonstrating the art of fire making.

    It never gets old for me, and each time I see that coal burst into flame it unites me with my ancient ancestors in a profound and unique way that can't be described.

    See you on the trails,

    Marc

    *If the primitive technology of the past is something that interests you feel free to attend our adult program for November.

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: October, 2018

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    Every season has its own special basket of gifts from nature, but in my mind fall takes the cake. With the coming of cool nights and ample rain, the fungi of the forest start to fruit and make their reproductive structures: Mushrooms! October is typically the highlight of the mushroom hunter’s year, as conditions can be perfect for this vital stage in the life cycle of fungi. Apple trees make apples loaded with seeds so that they can insure the future of their species, and the rest of the plant world works pretty much the same way. Fungi are similar - just with different structures and a few special twists. When it is time for fungi to reproduce there are a couple different strategies, but the one that concerns me the most is one that produces mushrooms. Forest fungi can live in many different ways - some are parasites of trees, some are decomposers, and some have a relationship with plants that benefits both parties; but no matter how they make their living, they all need to reproduce. When it is time for fungi to complete their life cycle the "fruit" is the mushroom, and the "seeds" are spores. The variety of shapes, sizes and colors that mushrooms can come in is astounding. Some are conspicuous and common, but many are tiny and difficult to identify.  Mushroom hunting is a great way to spend a couple of hours wandering through the woods - and if you put in your time, and learn to identify some of our common delicious edible mushrooms, you will be in for one of natures tastiest gifts.

    See you on the trails...Marc Gussen, Naturalist


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  • Naturalist Notes: September, 2018

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    Another round of summer programs is in the books, and it is time to look back and reflect on the last 9 weeks. First off, being the front man of the Nature Center, I too often end up getting more credit than I deserve. It is all too easy for people to associate our successes with me, but in reality there are quite a few people that help to make them possible. It all starts with The Closter Nature Center Board of Trustees. Without this group of local and devoted nature lovers none of this would happen. There is lots of work for the board to do: a combination of addressing day-to-day issues to keep our grounds and programs going strong, but also looking to the future, insuring that we can continue to be a natural history education and outdoor recreation asset for our community. 

    I would like to thank one board member in particular for her years of service and commitment to the Nature Center’s Summer Program. Year after year, Leslie Brunell starts work on the program in the winter, and doesn't stop until after it is all over. In addition, the other shining stars that make our programs so great are our teen-aged volunteers. Most of them have been coming here since they were 4 or 5, and apparently can't get enough of my corny jokes. These kids come day after day and take a great sense of pride in the fact that they are not only helping the Nature Center, but getting a chance to spread their love for nature and animals with visitors and summer program kids. This year my "helpers" not only assisted in making this summer the best ever- even with the highest attendance rates and the most rain- but also, the amount of trail work they tackled and completed was unprecedented! I would like to thank everyone that helped to make this possible, including all of the program attendees and the parents that drove them, for letting me have the best job on earth! 

    See you on the trails...Marc Gussen, Naturalist


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  • Naturalist Notes: June, 2018

    >> NATURALIST NOTES: June, 2018

    What would The Nature Center be without Ruckman Pond? I have a hard time even imagining it. I often hear people referring to the nature center as "The Pond". Although Ruckman Pond is far from being our geographical center on the map; it is definitely the heart of it. People of all ages take advantage of what it has to offer: from toddlers coming to see their first duck, to seniors reflecting on a long life- and everyone else in between. Kids fishing, bird-watchers watching, dog-walkers walking, coffee-drinkers sipping, hikers hiking, musicians playing, picnickers eating, and people enjoying the magic of nature. Forgive me if I left you out, I'm sure the list can go on for a whole page. The importance of the pond to our educational programs is immense. Our pond ecology classes are among the most popular choices for school trips and summer programs- and with good reason. They are exciting and fascinating. The pond is home to an incredible number of plants and animals that are often the focus of our science lessons, and is, itself, a great classroom for so many ecological concepts. I am ecstatic about the number of kids that have learned to canoe here and hope it opens up a world of adventure that they can take with them forever. On June 3rd, we will be hosting our annual pond celebration. It can't possibly capture all that Ruckman Pond means to us, but it is a chance for our community to celebrate this gift that brightens our lives in so many ways.

    See you on the trails...Marc Gussen, Naturalist


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  • Naturalist Notes: May, 2018

    >> NATURALIST NOTES: May, 2018

    Last May while out walking the trails with my then 5 year old, Willow, we came across one of the Nature Center’s many low-lying areas. What made this one special is that the forest floor in this particular spot is plastered with small yellow flowers. Willow was quickly mesmerized by the fact that what at first glance appeared to be a yellow painted meadow was actually acres of tiny yellow flowers. Her excitement quickly grew as we ran home to tell her mother about what she enthusiastically titled -  "The million field of flowers". Those flowers lasted only a couple of weeks but during the height of their glory we made several trips to visit them. Now that another spring is here we are waiting patiently for their return. If the suspense is tearing you apart, stop worrying. By the time you read this they will be here, and I'm sure Willow will be more than happy to direct you to "The million field of flowers".

    See you on the trails...Marc Gussen, Naturalist


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  • Naturalist Notes: April, 2018

    NATURALIST’S NOTES: April, 2018

    Some of my favorite frequent visitors to the Nature Center aren’t people, but dogs. There are quite a few dog walkers and their four legged friends that come for a stroll daily, and some that come less often, but all greatly enjoy the time they spend here. The combination of a taste of nature, exercise and quality time spent with your best friend is too good  a thing to pass up. We see everything from St. Bernards to tea-cup Yorkies, and every breed in between. 

    You can see the excitement in their snouts as they pull up to the CNC parking lot, and when the door opens up it’s like a kid in a candy store-- or better yet: a dog in a nature center.

    I can only imagine what all the smells, sights and sounds of nature do to the mind of a house dog, but I’m sure that many of them end up on the verge of sensory overload. 

    We encourage everyone to get out and enjoy this little 136 acre gem...and if you have a dog, bring them too! As you might expect, we have a couple of simple rules: Please keep your dogs on a leash, clean up after them and, most importantly, enjoy your time at the candy store!

    See you on the trails....

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: March, 2018

    NATURALIST’S NOTES: March, 2018

     As the days lengthen and the air temperatures warms, nature gives us many signs that spring is on the way. The harbinger of spring that has the most profound effect on me and on my natural history calendar is the first sighting of aquatic turtles. During winter, ponds and lakes don't seem like hot beds of animal activity, but a lot goes on under the ice. Fish of all kinds can be actively feeding and prepping for the spring breeding season. Being cold blooded doesn't stop fish from enjoying winter, but reptiles like our native eastern painted turtles and northern water snakes must hibernate to survive the cold months. The red-eared sliders are the first of our aquatic turtles to make a showing in the spring, with painted and snapping turtles soon to follow. After months of sleeping in the mud, they awaken as the water temperatures rise and they set out to look for their first meal of the new year. On warm sunny days in March they can sometimes be seen sitting en masse on the rocks around Ruckman Pond soaking up some much needed sunshine. I look forward to seeing the first robin and hearing the first spring peeper; but soon, on a warm and sunny afternoon, a little head will pop up and break the water’s surface marking the end of winter.

    See ya on the trails.

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist


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  • Naturalist Notes: February, 2018

    NATURALIST’S NOTES:

    With the crazy swings in temperature we have experienced this winter, I have been asked many questions and heard lots of talk about climate change.

    I try to clear this up as often as possible, since I feel it is very important to help people understand this topic. There is way too much political and economic pressure trying to water down what has become the consensus of scientists. The earth is warming... period. No matter what political party you belong to, or whether or not you have investments in solar energy technology or coal mining, the climate of earth is changing, the sea level is rising, and polar ice is melting. The opinions of financial gurus, politicians and talk show hosts are not science. I often hear comments like, "It was 9 degrees last night and you're gonna' tell me the climate of earth is getting warmer !?!”

    One important distinction that many people have trouble grasping, and which prevents many from accepting the facts of global climate change is the difference between climate and weather. Stick your head out the window and take note of the temperature and conditions - that's weather. Do that every day for a hundred years, log all your data and put it on a graph - that's climate. This is a complicated issue both on the scientific side and the ramifications for humans, but I can only hope that we continue to embrace the findings of science and move forward making the best decisions we can.

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist


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  • Naturalist Notes: January, 2018

    2018 is here, and it’s time for a New Year’s resolution. Every year I try to come up with something that will improve my health and happiness. This year I have a new, simple, and hopefully fruitful resolution...spend more time outside. The benefits are tremendous, it’s free, and can be fun for the whole family. Exercise is without out a doubt the best way to maintain physical and mental health, and there is no better place to do it than outside. When winter sets in it can be tough to get out, but dressing for the weather and keeping your time outside relatively short can be the difference between an ordeal and wonderful hour in nature. 
    Having real winter gear is important for extended outdoor activities, but simply dressing in layers and wearing some decent foot gear is all you need for a couple of trips around the pond. Give it a shot, turn over a new leaf, and start the new year with a resolution that will never cease to enrich you life in more ways than you can imagine.

    Happy New Year!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

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  • Naturalist Notes: December, 2017

    NATURALIST’S NOTES:

    Fall is slowly coming to an end, and everything in nature is readying for winter. Plants are closing up shop, migrants are leaving, forest residents are prepping to sleep or stick it out; and we are here to enjoy it all. Late fall is probably my favorite time to be in the woods.  Deep breaths of cool autumn air, the sound of crunching leaves under my feet, and that magical fall smell of the forest are just some the reasons to take a hike in December.  With the leaves off the trees, visibility is increased and you would be amazed at the number of last years’ nests that are visible now. Animal watching reaches new levels, since seeing birds of all kinds and mammals is easy without leaves blocking your view. The sounds of the forest are enhanced as well. I am always amazed at how far the sounds of woodpeckers can travel in a leafless forest. It’s not just the loud and obvious, but the soft sounds of squirrels’ claws on the bark of tree as they scurry up to safety, and the footsteps of deer traipsing along can finally be heard. As the temperature drops and the days shorten, and we are often feeling trapped inside, let’s not forget what a great time it is to be outside.

    See you on the trails,
    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: November, 2017

    With Thanksgiving around the corner, it's time to take a look at what is important to us and to give credit to many of the things that we take for granted. For me, this list begins with my loving wife and children and includes simple amenities like running water, healthy food and of course, access to nature. If we took a look around the world, we would see the bulk of human population living in urban areas often with little to no natural world around them. Luckily for us, even though we live in the most densely populated state in the country, we can take advantage of so much that a metropolis offers, yet still bask in the glory of nature. One of the things that we at the Closter Nature Center aim to provide for the members of our community is a chance to experience nature. The land here was preserved with both wildlife and US in mind. I am thankful that I get to live in such a beautiful place, and that I get a chance to share my love, knowledge and passion concerning nature with all who are interested and in need of the magic that nature can bring to our lives.

    See you on the trails,
    Marc Gussen, Naturalist
    Cute Kid’s Quote: "Dogs are my favorite people."

      -Willow 


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