It's said "The best things in life are free." Well, one of the best things I've discovered this summer are the free programs offered by the Missouri Dept. of Conservation. You can read about our cave adventure here . This time our adventure, specifically for homeschoolers, was to explore a creek and search for "critters" at Powder Valley. Our group of 15 kids and their parents and grandparents gathered in a classroom of the nature center and picked up our equipment for the day: large plastic boxs, aquarium nets, and magnifying cubes and viewers.
We had a half mile hike to the creek, but our guide kept us entertained with a nature scavenger hunt--looking for woodpeckers, burls on trees, etc. And these keen eyed kids managed to find several creatures not on the list. We saw at least four deer ( two being fawns with their cute little spots), a racoon, and a skink (that's skink-- like a lizard ,not a skunk. Thank goodness). At last we reached a "wet-bridge" over the creek and rocky beach. Here we got our lesson on collecting samples.
We were to place our nets in the water and begin to dislodge the rocks immediately upstream. Anything under the rock should be carried by the current into our nets (our guide assured us that there weren't any crawdads or crayfish with pincers to worry about). We would then empty our nets into two plastic containers which would act as holding tanks. Most of what we would be finding would be extremely small and would need to be observed in the magnifying viewers. My Schnickelfritz and the other younger kids were more interested in the immediate gratification of catching water sliders as they skittered about.
This picture was taken mere moments before Fritz took a header into the creek. We had to skp swimming lessons this day in order to attend, and apparently he felt the need to practice his strokes anyway. I wrung out his shirt as best I could while we moved on to phase two: observation.
The prize find was a planarian--a freshwater flatworm with an arrowshaped head. According to our guide, they are a sign of a healthy and balanced stream ecosystem. Fritz filled the cup portion of his viewer (again going for the visible and high-animated water sliders). When I dumped the water, I noticed a brown streak on the lip of the cup. At first we thought it was just a drop of dirty water, but then it started moving on its own. I had brought our handheld magnifying glass along and a quick examination revealed a planarian, one of only two discovered that day. Fritz was extremely pleased to have "bagged" one of the prize catches of the day.
We returned to the nature center and explored the exhibits there--including a "Wild Kingdom" moment with a pair of snapping turtles. I'll save that story for another time.