• Naturalist’s Notes: June, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    Summer is almost here and we are gearing up for another round of our summer program. Each year we try to offer an exciting and affordable science-and-fun-filled outdoor experience for 4- to 14-year-old's. We have two classrooms:one is the Nature Center cabin, and the other is the outdoors: our 136-acre nature center forest accented with 2 ponds and 2 streams! Our main goal is to get kids outside and to get them excited about science and nature. Each week is different, but some of our favorite activities include canoeing, stream walks, animal feedings, treasure hunts, pond scooping, and math (just kidding - no math!). One of the things that really makes our summer program shine is our teenage volunteers. They have all come here for years, and know the trails, know the animals, and - unfortunately for them - they know all my corny jokes too! We look forward to another wonderful summer and invite all returning and new kids to join us for some outdoor science fun!

    Visit our website, www.closternaturecenter.org,  for info on how to get involved.

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist’s Notes: May, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    Image result for multiflora roseOne of the many functions of the Closter Nature Center’s Board of Trustees is to manage this amazing parcel of land and do what's best for its inhabitants. Over the last couple of years we have taken this job seriously and are devoted to protecting not just the forest itself, but also maintaining its unique diversity of plant and animal species. After years of collecting data, researching, and analyzing our options we have identified our most pressing problems and are proudly moving forward with solutions.

    The over-population of deer, non-native insects attacking our trees, and invasive plants out-competing our native plants are the three biggest threats to diversity that we face. Among the invasive plants that have the ability to squeeze out their native counterparts is "Diversity enemy # 1": the multiflora rose. This Asian import's ability to completely take over and produce a monoculture is second to none. I love all plants, (including multiflora rose), but it’s ability to take over is why one of our goals in managing our forest is the labor intensive removal of this beautiful but out-of-place plant. If you feel that helping to protect our little gem of a forest is something that you would be willing to devote some time and sweat to, please join us! 

    Visit our website, www.closternaturecenter.org,  for info on how to get involved,and please join us for an upcoming presentation on Forest Stewardship!

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: April, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

     

    Each spring, ponds like our very own Ruckman pond go through an amazing seasonal shift.

    First, the increasing day length and higher sun angle lead to a melting of the ice and a warming of the pond’s water and bottom sediment.

    The shallow nature of ponds lets some of the sun light reach the dark colored bottom and warm it from underneath. This lets the warming sediment begin the yearly rebirth of the pond's phytoplankton, zooplankton and insect life.

    While some of these tiny pond dwellers are out and about during the winter, most are hidden away in the pond’s muddy bottom until conditions are right for them to return. The warmth wakes them up, and then they quickly go to work. The tiny "plant-like" phytoplankton use that sun light combined with nutrients dissolved in the pond water to do the magic of photosynthesis and make much of the food that will feed the rest of the pond’s inhabitants.

    Some of the zooplankton, or "animal-like" microscopic creatures rely on decomposing last year’s bounty, but most await the bloom of phytoplankton and graze like rabbits in a field of clover. The exponential growth of the zooplankton is just one link in the food chain, as they become much-needed sustenance for the waking insect life stirred from long winter’s nap. The pond’s fish, rejuvenated by warming water, get ready for their spring reproduction attempts by feeding heavily on all of this new-found food. Most of this spring activity we miss, not just because it is under water, but because most of the pond’s life is microscopic. They might be small but they are what makes the pond’s glory possible.

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: March, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    Many of the animals that we love and care for here at the Nature Center were once brought here as unwanted pets. Their stories vary considerably, but they all have a common thread - they really needed a new home. Sometimes it is a simple case of: "I never thought it would live this long and my son is going off to college" or, "The kids have lost interest and my husband is stuck doing all the work". Other times a conscientious caregiver just becomes unable to continue providing for a beloved pet, and responsibly seeks out the best new home they can find. On occasions (thankfully rare), animals get dropped off with out a call or even a note.  No matter what the circumstances, we do our best to find or give them a good home. Having a pet can be a huge responsibility and require lots of time and love. Obviously, a horse will require more effort and resources than a goldfish, but both will rely on you just the same. Having a pet is commitment that is easier to make when a person truly understands what it actually takes to care for whatever animal they choose. A large jungle bird that needs its own room in the house, eats $100 worth of macadamia nuts a week, and could live to be 60 years old might not be the best choice for most prospective pet owners, despite the flashy plumage. 

    The joys of having animal companions can be amazing but those joys don't come without hard work and daily devotion. If your kids are dying for a pet, but you just don't have room in your life for yet another responsibility, don't worry- that's just one of the reasons the Nature Center animals are here. Kids can get exposed to the many joys of animals, (but you won't have to go to the pet store every week to buy crickets!).

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

    P.S. Cute Kid’s Quote

    One day with a room filled with 2nd graders, I was talking about how animals don't just talk with sounds, but that many animals can communicate with their bodies.
    I asked them what a dog "says" when it wags its tail? 

    A boy responded with "Ruff! Ruff!"

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: February, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    For many years now we have offered programs for kids during school vacations. These programs started due to the number of calls I would get prior to (and during) vacations asking if we have anything for kids to do while they are out of school. 

    We started to offer school break programs regularly and they have been a part of our pledge to offer affordable environmental education to our community. The programs we offer include our summer nature program, our after-school program and the school break program.

    All of the classes I teach have a few simple goals: (1) to get kids excited about science and nature; (2) to get kids outside, learning and exploring the natural world; and (3) to help close the widening gap between our modern world and the natural world. I don't expect that every child who comes through will end up working in zoo or becoming a botanist, just as we don't expect every kid that learns to play a musical instrument to end up in Carnegie Hall. It's about exposure, a well-rounded education and upbringing. 

    We will continue to offer opportunities for the children of our community to embrace the natural world in fun, exciting, and engaging ways. This month we are offering both our after-school science programs and the winter break program: two great ways to get kids outside and learning!

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

    P.S. Cute Kid’s Quote

    One day with a room filled with 2nd graders, I was talking about how animals don't just talk with sounds, but that many animals can communicate with their bodies.
    I asked them what a dog "says" when it wags its tail? 

    A boy responded with "Ruff! Ruff!"

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: January, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    When winter really sets in, there is no better place than the Closter Nature Center for a quick hike. Considering the ordeal of getting dressed for the cold and snow, it gets hard in the winter to go outside for some exercise, but the benefits are tremendous. To offset our tendency to spend more time inside and less time outside, a few simple tips can help pave the way towards a happy and healthy winter. 

    "There is no such thing as bad weather - only bad clothes." I don't know who to credit this quote to, but that doesn't lessen the power of this nugget of wisdom. Layering up and topping things off with a windproof top can be the difference between a great hike and a shiver-fest. Snow boots may not be the best hiking boots for an all day trip, but for a 45 minute walk along snow covered trails they will be fine.  A warm hat that covers the ears, and some gloves to protect those tender digits and we are ready. 

    The forest in winter is a magical place, and being able to enjoy it while getting some exercise is a special treat. The Nature Center is  open from dawn to dusk, and we encourage you to show up and hit the trails no matter what the weather.

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

    P.S. Cute Kid’s Quote

    While talking with some kindergartners about habitats, I asked the kids, "What is a pond?"

    One insightful 5 year old scratched his head and said, "It's an inside out island"

     


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  • 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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