June is a month to celebrate in the northwest. The dreary days of winter are ancient history and the world is magnificently alive. If you set your mind to it, you can almost hear the sound of plants growing and creatures creeping. There are too many wonder events happening to mention them all here, but I wanted to tickle your wonder bone by mentioning a few events that are common occurrences during early summer. Many do not require you to go anywhere, but to simply open your eyes and ears to the wonders right outside your window.
Bird Watch – This time of year, each morning starts and ends with the flutey song of the Swainson’s Thrush, a very elusive bird who is only here to eat while the eating is good. It feasts on insects and berries, particularly our native salmonberry. At some point during mid-summer, their song is noticeably absent. Huge groups of Swainson’s Thrushes will leave under the cover of darkness to migrate to the coast, where they will continue to feast. These amazing little birds eventually migrate down the west coast to tropical Central America. Enjoy their beautiful song while you can. Listen … birdsounds.net
Robins and other birds are busy building nests. Some will raise two or more groups of fledglings before the summer is over. Birds can be seen busily going about their business almost everywhere, so encourage kids to watch for them, count them, follow their flight or see if they can identify their songs. Ask questions about bird appearance; size, shape, color, markings, tail, beak and wing characteristics to encourage observation skills. Try putting out nesting materials like hair, yarn, straw, etc. to see what your neighborhood birds might use to construct nests. As always, engage in conversation about what you see, and be respectful of these winged wonders and their nests.
Kitsap Audubon Society provides a great listing of places to see birds. They also create a short radio program called Bird Notes, a snippet under two minutes long featuring the sounds of a local bird and a short story about it.
Insect Watch – Have you noticed caterpillars? You might be seeing the famous tent caterpillar, a local visitor who makes an appearance every spring. They are called tent caterpillars because they create little tents in the trees (often Red Alder). They spend their days munching on leaves, but always turn in to their tents at night. Their munching seems destructive, but they actually help the forest in some ways. To read more about it… Forest Campgrounds
Butterflies are abundant and bees are busy doing their important work. When choosing flowers to plant, ask about plants that attract, butterflies, hardworking bees and hummingbirds.
Mammal Watch – Rabbits… those cute furry critters who are the bane of every gardener’s existence. If you find yourself able to resist the urge to chase them out of your space, stop to watch our pudgy rabbits and marvel at their design. Probably the most common rabbit species seen in our neighborhoods is the Eastern cottontail.
Rabbit species found in the Pacific Northwest: Native species – Nuttall’s cottontail rabbit, Black-tail jackrabbit, Whitetail jackrabbit, Snowshoe hare. Non native species -Eastern cottontail rabbit and Domestic European rabbits. The chunky rabbit you see hopping through your yard is most likely an Eastern cottontail. Identify it by the lighter colored fur patch behind the neck.
Another local resident is the black tailed deer. They also seem to have a way of munching in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Forest Watch – Wander through a local forested space to catch the last remnants of spring and the rapid unfurling of the forest canopy. There are still many wildflowers to enjoy along forest paths in the region.
Kitsap County is full of places to wander and notice rapid changes in the forest. Try adopting a tree, log, plant, pond or square meter of ground in a forest and watch the changes that happen over the summer. Get up close and personal, noticing any insects or minuscule changes or activity playing out. Phenology is the branch of science that focuses on the timing of events in nature… kind of like nature’s calendar. Why do plants and animals do what they do when they do it? Does the unfurling of a fern in June have an impact on any other living thing? Learn to pay attention to not only the changes, but the potential ripple effect of those changes and you’ll be on your way to being an expert in “phenology!”
Check out these natural forest areas and parks: The Grand Forest, Clear Creek Trail, Fish Park, Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park, Banner Forest Heritage Park, Forest Rock Hills Park, Illahee Preserve Heritage Park,
Garden Watch – Spring and summer are unparalleled when it comes to watching seeds germinate and burst forth with new growth. If you don’t have a garden, take time to visit a community garden to observe how quickly plants grow. If you live near Poulsbo, the city parks and recreation department maintains a Children’s Garden in Raab Park. Children are welcome every Monday at 10:00 – 12:00 (June 24 – August 12) Children enjoy watering, planting and harvesting as well as a garden themed craft and story. For more detailed information, see the Poulsbo Parks and Recreation website.
A visit to a local nursery is a great field trip for children. Nurseries keep seasonal plants moving through at a brisk pace this time of year and the variety is staggering. Letting your child choose a tiny start to care for is less expensive than most toys!
Visit local parks and nurseries to search for interesting plants, flowers and seeds. Check websites before visiting. $=fee
Ocean Watch – Summer is the time to watch for low tides. Although our beaches can look like nothing but sand, rocks and slimy seaweed, don’t be fooled. There are so many amazing wonders living in the intertidal zone, the ribbon of beach that is exposed every day when the tide goes out. We are fortunate to have local volunteers (Free Beach Exploration Schedule 2019) who walk the beaches at low tide helping families identify and enjoy the amazing creatures found in this special part of the ocean.
Kids love the treasure hunt and learn how to respect this fragile environment at the same time. SEA Discovery Center in downtown Poulsbo has a wonderful touch tank full of creatures to touch and learn about with the help of knowledgeable volunteers. I’ve learned to always double check marine center hours, as they can be limited.
Remember to follow some important guidelines when tracking wonder at the beach.
- Rinse hands first – sunscreen can be harmful to the animals
- Wet hands before touching to be sure to protect the protective film some animals have.
- Use a gentle 1 finger touch
- Always put animals back exactly where you found them.
- Never overturn rocks larger than your head and…
- Always replace rocks, seaweed, etc exactly where you found them. Creatures depend on their protection
Sky and Weather Watch
Friday, June 21 is the first day of summer this year. It is known as the summer solstice (from Latin sol or “sun” and stitium or “standing”) and technically occurs at 11:54 EDT. The summer solstice is not a specific date, but marks the moment in time when the sun’s rays reach the highest, northernmost point in the northern hemisphere. The date can change, but usually falls somewhere between June 20-22.
At the time of the solstice, the sun appears to stand still, then move back in the opposite direction. Those us us who live further from the equator experience “longer” days, when the sky is still light late in the evening. Regions at the top of the earth celebrate the summer solstice and are often called “land of the midnight sun” because the sun does not actually set, but just dips low on the horizon before climbing back up.
Because the sun is highest in the sky on this day, go outside at noon and watch your shadow. You should notice that shadows are shorter than they are any other time of the year.
Moon Phases 2019– Full moon dates – June 16-18, July 15-18, August 14-16
Curious Kids Nature Guide: Explore the Amazing Outdoors of the Pacific Northwest
Cultivate Wonder… Discover Design
Images: SPegany ©2019, unless otherwise noted