• Naturalist Notes: December, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    When fall turns to winter, it's time for many wonderful sights in the world of nature. One of my favorites is winter bird activity- and the ease of viewing them in the sleeping majesty of bare forest trees. Another that gets little attention but amazes me every time I see it: needle ice. Needle ice forms when the air temperature is below the freezing point but the subsoil water is above the freezing point. Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius and typically turns to ice. Needle ice is unique, in that the still-liquid soil water wicks up through the soil and forms a network of needle-like columns of ice. After a cold December night you might find needle ice that forms when the air temperature drops, and groundwater rises up in a small but magical display.   

    We see it often here at the Nature Center, as it frequently forms in the damp soil of most of our 136 acres. Sometimes the Nature Center's trails can be littered with these cold weather gems. Often, December hikes through our trails can be to the beat of needle ice crunching under foot.

    Look for it in damp places in your yard- or better yet, come here one morning and take a stroll. Look up for birds and down for the needle ice! 

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: November, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    Fall brings cool weather, colorful foliage and migrating animals...usually. So far we have had an atypical fall, with October days in the 90's and green forest canopies in the middle of the month. Birders have been searching far and wide for warblers, offshore fishermen are awaiting the tuna reports, and mushroom hunters are praying for rain. Some years everything falls into place like clockwork, and some years things don't pan out according to the "schedule". More and more we are noticing the "schedule" is a bit off. Not just concerning fall weather, but in many ways. Nature always finds a way. When and how is the question.

    The leaves will fall soon--will we see foliage fireworks for two weeks before they come down? Probably not. This unseasonably warm fall will affect many of nature's cycles; everything from migration patterns to winter food supplies. Although I like wearing T-shirts in October, a seared yellowfin tuna steak with a wild mushroom cream sauce sure would be nice.

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist Notes: October, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    There are so many wonderful things about fall that it is hard to pick a favorite, but high up on the list of reasons to love autumn are mushrooms.

     Mushrooms come in an amazing variety of colors and shapes, make a great addition to dinners, and their importance in the forest is second only to the trees themselves.

    A little background is important here, as they or often misunderstood and even vilified due to some species being highly toxic.

    Mushrooms are the fruit of a fungus, just like an apple is the fruit of an apple tree. For a fungus to reproduce it needs to make spores, just like an apple tree needs to make seeds. The mushroom is not the organism, but just a reproductive structure that produces spores and ensures the future of the species.

    The fungus is the organism, and they are quite inconspicuous, living in the soil or in live or dead trees as a network of fine white strands. It's the mushrooms that stand out and get noticed -  often littering the forest floor with their varying shapes and colors. Most forest fungi are decomposers and help the nutrient cycles of the forest by using dead leaves and trees as food. Some fungi are parasites and attack living trees, but there are many that live in harmonious association with certain trees and get their food from their host - and in turn, provide the host tree with help getting water and nutrients. The bulk of the mushrooms found in the forest are inedible, but there are a handful that are delicious. October is the time of year when many tasty forest treats can be found, and I look forward to another great year of mushroom hunting! If this topic interests you, come join us at the cabin on October 17th at 7:00pm for a fun and informative lecture and slide show about mushrooms.

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • Naturalist’s Notes: September, 2019

    >> Naturalist Notes & Musings:

    One of the things that I love about the Nature Center is getting to see so many people outside enjoying nature. The number of people from so many walks of life doing so many different things always amazes me. From dog walkers to birdwatchers to kids catching their first fish, the Nature Center is clearly a multi-use attraction.

    Many people obviously come here for traditional outdoor pursuits like hiking and fishing, but it doesn't end there. The days here start with the morning coffee. Quite a few people take advantage of the peaceful and serene vibe the pond offers in the morning before heading off to work. Other early morning visitors include nature photographers and bird watchers who love to walk our trails and enjoy the company of our fine feathered friends. Whether for a walk through the forest or Tai Chi by the edge of the pond, people come here to enjoy outdoor exercise all through the morning.  

    Is it lunch time yet? It might be a full blown picnic or just a sandwich in the car-- but could you possibly find nicer scenery to go with your midday meal?  

    As an avid fisherman, I am tickled by the number of kids that would rather be here casting away all afternoon than home playing video games. The afternoon brings folks for a flurry of fishing and wildlife action that often ends with a lucky few enjoying a spectacular sunset. One of our main goals here at the Nature Center is to get people outside and enjoying this 136 acre oasis. Come one - come all, I'm sure there is something for everyone to do here.

    See you on the trails!

    Marc Gussen, Naturalist

     


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  • 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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