Week 4 Chickadees, Tuesday: Rambunctious Raccoons!

Week 4 Chickadees, Tuesday: Rambunctious Raccoons!

A mysterious five-fingered track, a frozen creek and lots of sledding — the Chickadees sure had an exciting Tuesday!

The Chickadees gathered in the log circle on a chilly Tuesday morning to see what mystery Eli had for them that day. Out of his pocket he took a picture of an animal track that has five fingers on both its front and hind feet. Eli shared that this animal lives here but has relatives in South America, is very intelligent and dexterous and will eat just about anything! Afterwards Sarah taught the flock a new song that revealed what this animal was. The lyrics are below so you can sing it at home! It’s sung to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot.” 

I’m a little raccoon prowling around 

I hunt for food without a sound 

A mask on my face and a bushy tail 

Let’s see if you can find my trail! 

The children put on their backpacks and headed down to Trillium Camp, stopping at the bridge to observe any changes they could see in the landscape. Ice! The cold weather had helped the creek freeze again. The Chickadees quickly hung up their backpacks and followed Eli downstream in search of ice to play on. They not only found a strong and slippery patch of ice to slide around on, but also tracks, everywhere! They noticed tracks with three short “toes” and tracks with four toes and claw marks on the ice. The animals of the forest must have been busy while we were away! What do you think they were doing? Do these animals slip on the ice just like we do? Trillium Camp was filled with laughter and squeals of delight as the children slid around on the ice and collected large pieces to build ice castles. 

Speaking of ice castles, do you remember our friend Willa the Winter Fairy? The one who lives in an ice castle and helps animals?  Sarah told a story at slunch about a hungry raccoon, named Rita, who had just woken up from torpor — a hibernation-like state that raccoons go in when temperatures drop. When temperatures increase, raccoons wake up and look for food. Rita and another raccoon, named Millie, couldn’t agree on how to share a popular feeding spot. While Willa is very skilled at helping others, she knew someone who specializes in helping animals share and find things they can agree on. Any guesses as to who that could be? Unity Unicorn of course! With the help of Willa and Unity Unicorn, Rita and Millie agree to share the food so they can both survive winter. 

After slunch it was time to warm our bodies with some sledding! The children trekked over to the sledding hill and did a great job taking turns sliding down the hill and carrying the sleds back up. By the end of the day the Chickadees were feeling warm and grateful for a day spent in a winter wonderland!

Thank you for reading! We’ll see you next week for more adventures in the woods! 

Week 4: Monday, Wednesday – Sparkling Snow and Cold Temps!

Week 4: Monday, Wednesday – Sparkling Snow and Cold Temps!

The sun shone in the cloudless sky and sparkled on the fresh snow as our flocks gathered on Monday for this week’s adventures. Bundled up in the cold morning air, the flocks did their best to guess this week’s mystery animal. What do you think it was?

Chickadees

During Opening Circle, Eli passed around a picture of a track. It had 5 long toes that kind of looked like fingers. Could it be a human print? Maybe a squirrel? The Chickadees got down on their hands. How would this animal move? They waddled over to the tree where their nest was. It was daytime, so it was time to sleep. This animal was nocturnal! When it was dusk, it was time to wake up and head over to some tasty looking trash bins full of delicious food to eat. After gorging themselves on human food waste, the Chickadees thought they had figured out which animal they were pretending to be. Was it a raccoon? You guessed it!

It was time to head to camp, so the chickadees made their way down the snow-covered, sunlit trail to the bridge. They observed that the creek looked different today: it was covered in ice once again! After carefully testing to see if the ice was thick enough, the flock got to play near the frozen stream and explore the many fresh tracks in the new snow. They found deer and squirrel tracks right in camp. There were so many fresh tracks to explore, leading in all directions around the forest! 

During slunch, Sarah kept the flock warm with a toasty fire. With full bellies and warm hands, the Chickadees headed up to the top of our big sledding hill and got to whiz down on the fresh blanket of snow again this week. At the top of the hill, Eli also built a jump for the sleds. 

“Are you ready?” “Ready!” They flew through the air and landed on the soft white ground.

On Wednesday, the sun hid from us again as fresh snowflakes fell from the sky. The flock practiced their animal walking around in the snowdrifts, and even got to slide down the Climbing Hill in Trillium Camp. Today, everything was thickly covered in snow, even the creek itself! Soon, the flock was also covered in snow from their morning romp.

While they filled their bellies during slunch, they learned about a wolf who loved cookies and learned to share them with a butterfly friend, and Nora told the story of how Pan played his pan pipes against the god Apollo. With magical music floating through their heads, the flock headed inside to warm up and then back to the sledding hill to try out the new snow that had fallen and get more air-time on the sled jump.

Though the week was chilly, the Chickadees stayed warm and enthusiastic as they learned about crafty raccoons and played in the deep snow.

Nuthatches

What has dexterous hands, a black mask, eats almost anything, and moves on all fours with a waddle? Why, a raccoon, of course! During Opening Circle, the Nuthatches got to experiment with their raccoon-waddles all across the field. When it was time to pack up and head to camp, the instructors gave the flock an important task on the sunny morning. We needed to collect as much firewood as we could for our special activity during slunch. The Nuthatches worked hard to collect lots of whispies, pencils, and markers (three good diameters for firewood) from the forest all around camp, and piled it up inside our shelter. While the flock worked diligently bringing sticks back to the nest, Ian had a special treat in store.

He built up a log-cabin fire that was soon roaring out of the snowy ground and placed a bag of round objects into a pan. Today was a day for roasting chestnuts! First, Nora had to cut a slit in the chestnuts so that they could cook on the inside. Then they were placed in boiling water for several minutes. 

While the chestnuts were boiling, Will told a story about how Jack the Raccoon helped the Peace Superheroes keep their tasty meal. 

A snow snake had snuck into camp and stolen all of the chestnuts from the Peace Superheroes. They didn’t know what to do, so they called on Jack the Raccoon. Since he was so crafty, he knew just what to do. He and Unity Unicorn tracked the Snow Snake through the woods, following the trail it made in the snow. They snuck up on the Snow Snake, and when Jack jumped out to surprise the snake, Unity Unicorn grabbed the chestnuts and took them back to camp. Thanks to Jack, the Peace Superheroes had a tasty treat to finish their slunch.

After boiling over the fire, it was almost time for our chestnuts to become a tasty treat for the Nuthatches! Ian finished roasting the nuts in a slotted pan over the open flame. Then, each member of the flock got to peel and try this new treat. Many nuthatches enjoyed the woody and sweet flavor so much, they asked for seconds. Everyone in the flock was very adventurous and tried the new snack, just like raccoons!

On Wednesday, the sun hid behind the clouds and soft snowflakes fell from the sky. After playing a fun running game and making animal sounds in Opening Circle, the flock headed out to camp where they found the field completely covered in a thick white blanket. They spent the morning working on sturdy walls for their snow shelter, using their hands, sleds, and shovels to pack down walls into the snow. They also found lots of giant snowballs that they could climb on and chip apart. There was so much snow cloaking the ground!

At slunch, the Nuthatches once again warmed themselves over a fire, huddled in close to dry wet mittens and keep their fingers toasty. After slunch, we had more fun in the deep snow with some free play time and lots of opportunities to explore our winter wonderland. Though the week was cold, fire, food, and friends kept these little raccoons safe and warm.

Week 4 Nuthatches, Tuesday: Raccoons (They’re Coming Out!)

Week 4 Nuthatches, Tuesday: Raccoons (They’re Coming Out!)

Ready for an epic scavenger hunt? 

On Tuesday, the Nuthatches went on a quest. 

After making some beautiful snow angels in the field and getting our hearts pumping with Foxtail, we trekked to our camp. To our surprise, there was a gift left for us! On a log nearby by our shelter, there was a mysterious map that looked like it had been through a fire. There was a bag next to it, which held the Peace Superhero stones: Fine Words Fox, Shadowtail, Feel-better Butterfly, Peaceful Porcupine, and Unity Unicorn. 

After some careful deduction, we realized that the Peace Superheroes were sending us on a hunt to find something underneath a white pine tree! But…which one? We all spread out to look for tracks. 

The tracks looked like they’d been made by a raccoon, because they had five fingers! We followed them, snaking in and out of the woods and field. Finally, we saw a white pine tree that matched the one on the map. And under it…two bright orange sleds! 

What a perfect gift from the Peace Superheroes! We ran back across the field with the sleds and practiced taking turns sliding down the hill one by one. We ended the day with some important electrical repairs on the shelter and sharing our gratitude for sledding!

Week 3 Chickadees: Who-cooks-for-you?

Week 3 Chickadees: Who-cooks-for-you?

This week arrived with freshly fallen snow, new friends, and new mysteries to uncover for the Chickadees. Maddy, who worked with the Chickadee flock in the fall, came back for the day! The children were so excited to see and play with her. They also got to meet someone new — Edie! An intern who will be taking photos of the Chickadee and Nuthatch flocks this winter and writing blog posts to help share our stories with others. At Opening Circle, the Chickadees tried to figure out the mystery this week: What animal makes these strange noises, flies at night, and hunts small rodents? Then they flapped their wings and soared around in the snowy field, diving to catch their prey. What animal were they?

During slunch, Willa the Winter Fairy visited the flock once again as Maddy told the story of how Willa helped the forest by giving a lesson to Athena the Owl. 

Willa is at home in her ice castle sipping on some peppermint tea when she hears a knock on her door. She opens it to find her friends Greta the Gray Squirrel, Ringo the Red Squirrel, Rosa the Red Fox and others! They told Willa they needed help — their friend Athena the Barred Owl had been bragging to them about how good of a flyer she was, how she could fly silently through the forest at night without anyone hearing her. She was also constantly bragging about how good her eyesight was, how she could turn her head all the way around, how she was the best hunter in the forest with the sharpest talons, how she was wise and that no other animal in the forest was as good as she was. While Greta, Ringo, Rosa and the others thought of Athena as their friend, it was getting hard to be around her. They each had special gifts of their own and they felt like Athena didn’t care about them because she thought she was “the best.” But Willa had an idea! At dusk Willa and the animals traveled to Athena’s home where they waited for her to wake up. When she did, Greta and Ringo showed her how fast they can climb up and down trees and how they cache food they found in the fall to help them survive in the winter. Rosa showed off how silently she can walk in the snow. They also went down to the creek where Willa talked about the salamanders and frogs and how they bury themselves underneath rocks and mud until winter melts away into spring. All of this helped Athena realize that, while she has a lot of amazing skills, so do others! At dusk the next day, Willa and the animals visited Athena again and she said this — “Until yesterday I thought there was no other creature as cool as me, as wise as me, as fast as me, as smart as me, and as quiet as me. I thought there was no other creature in the forest who could even compare to me. But now I really appreciate what all of you can do. I appreciate how fast you can run, squirrels, and how hard you work to get your food in the winter. And how quiet you can be, fox. I appreciate that the frogs and the salamanders can do incredible things, too. I’m still going to appreciate all the things I can do but also what you can do too!”

Listen! Did you hear that? A hoot sounded from the other side of the ridge. Where is that sound coming from?

The Chickadees headed up the hill and around the big tree to find Maddy hooting like a barred owl. With Willa’s introduction to this week’s mystery creature – owls – the flock was learning lots of interesting things about the wise birds. They learned how to make a barred owl call: who-cooks-for-you. The forest echoed with these owl calls as they played hide-and-hoot.

Wednesday morning greeted us with falling snow and beautiful winter weather. As the big flakes came down around us, the Chickadees were surprised to head to a big hill after Opening Circle instead of Trillium Camp. What did they find there? A bright orange sled and lots of snow to slide on! The morning was spent flying down the hill in the winter weather and playing in the falling snow.

After all the activity the Chickadees settled in for slunch, where Eli told the story of the time he thought he was being followed by a pack of baboons that turned out to be a barred owl calling from the other side of the woods. Then Nora told the flock about the time Willa the Winter Fairy told young owlets a traditional Haudenosaunee story about how owls gained their wisdom and wide eyes. Owls weren’t always so wise and patient! But when owl made the Creator very mad by being insistent and impatient, Owl learned to keep his eyes and ears open and use his wisdom to stay out of trouble.

Afterwards the Chickadees went inside to warm some chilly fingers and toes (this was our coldest day of preschool yet!) and discovered three small oval-shaped objects covered in aluminum foil. Eli explained that these were owl pellets! He said that since owls swallow their prey whole (bones, fur and all!), they have to regurgitate the parts they can’t digest. The flock divided into three groups and each got to help take apart the owl pellets. Inside they found fur and small, delicate bones. The Chickadees would like to give a special thank you to Elisabeth from the Nuthatches for ordering these for us! 

“Everyone close your eyes. What do you feel?” In Opening Circle on Thursday, Hannah brought a brown-striped mystery for the Chickadees. It was a secondary flight feather from a Great Horned Owl! There were so many types of interesting owls to learn about this week. The flock practiced being owls today by playing “Owl Spy” and using their owl eyes to find different objects around the front field.

After warming up at a toasty fire at slunch, Hannah explained that the flock was going to become owls again! This time they had to use their owl eyes as they flew through the forest, looking for objects hidden in the woods. Along the path to Trillium camp, the Chickadees took turns walking with their eyes wide open, finding colorful scarves, snakes, and even tiny owls hidden in the trees! They weren’t allowed to touch the object or say what they found out loud and had to glide past as silently as an owl. The Chickadees gained lots of wisdom from their owl friends this week.

Week 3 Nuthatches: Flying Through the Winter Weather

Week 3 Nuthatches: Flying Through the Winter Weather

The beginning of the week greeted the Nuthatches with freshly fallen snow and a new animal to get to know. Opening Circle started with a new birdie song with big wing flaps and motions to get the flock moving.

Way up in the sky, the little birdies fly

While down in the nest, there sleeps all the rest

Shhhh, they’re sleep-ing.

The sun rises up,

The dew goes away

Good morning, good morning, the little birdies say.

 

But the animal for this week didn’t get up in the morning and go to sleep at night. It’s nocturnal and uses its big eyes to find its prey in the dark. Can you figure out the mystery animal? It’s an owl! The Nuthatches learned how to use their “owl eyes” to look around, pay attention, and find things in the forest.

Once at camp, Will explained that owls need big nests to live in and sometimes will keep building on their nest for years. The Nuthatches used their owl eyes to find new branches and sticks for our own owl nest to shelter in. The flock found two sturdy ‘y’ branches and a third long branch to build a shelter in our new camp. It was so strong, Will could even hang from it!

At slunch, we read the book “Wolf Island” while we warmed up around the fire and learned about how different animals and plants are connected to each other. The relationships between all the pieces of nature are so important, especially for staying alive and warm in the winter!

Suddenly, a noise broke through the quiet of the snowy forest. Who-cooks-for-you? Was it an owl? The Nuthatches called back with their Barred Owl sound they learned, trying to find the source of the call. Who-cooks-for-you? They ran through the forest until they found Nora hiding behind a tree! Using their hoots and their owl ears, the Nuthatches found the source of the mysterious noise as we played Hide-and-Hoot. 

On Wednesday, thick snow fell from the sky. As big flakes blanketed the ground in a fresh layer of white, the Nuthatches made sure to keep moving to stay warm. We practiced our flying, flapped to our birdie song, and chased each other around the field. When we arrived at camp, Nora emerged from the woods carrying two bright orange sleds! The winter weather was begging us to go sledding down a hill near our camp. The Nuthatches spent the morning whizzing down the hill as the snow continued to fall. They even got to pull each other around in the sleds.

At slunch time, the flock warmed up around a beautiful fire and practiced dancing to stay warm. The weather was cold, but the Nuthatches kept moving in the snow with games and carrying new branches to keep building our nest.

Thursday morning dawned cold and windy, so the Nuthatches played “Owl, Mouse, Mite.” We explored the relationships between all the animals in the forest by playing this game, which is like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Each animal can beat or be beaten by another animal. Owls eat mice, mice eat mites, and mites can attach to owls! The teams picked their animal and quickly ran away from their predators. 

After Opening Circle, a special surprise was in store for the flock. We headed to the picnic tables outside to find small ovals wrapped in foil. What could be inside? As the foil was unwrapped, small brown pellets emerged. These were owl pellets! When an owl eats its food, it doesn’t cook it or chew it up. Instead, it swallows it whole. Then, it has to regurgitate all the bones, fur, or feathers that it can’t digest. The Nuthatches dug through the pellets to find tiny bones and lots of fur from small rodents. They even came across a bird beak and breastplate, showing what this owl’s meal had been. Using a key, they tried to identify which bones they were and what animal they belonged to, and packed up some of their favorite bones to bring home and show their families.

Then we headed down to camp, ate our slunch over the fire, and played lots of games to stay warm in the winter chill. We found lots of fresh tracks in the snow, including a fox track heading right through the middle of our camp. This week the Nuthatches learned so much about owls, natural relationships, and embracing our snowy winter weather.

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Ithaca Forest Preschool is a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and is run by Primitive Pursuits, a 4-H Program.