Learning through the Lens of Habitat: Watersheds in Western MA
Our natural landscapes come to life in the summer months, offering families numerous opportunities to learn about local plant and animals species and a variety of habitats found in our region. These community-based resources are available everywhere, from the parks in our cities to rural countryside. While the months are warm, look for ways to engage in your community in meaningful ways while supporting nature-based interests and education.
When thinking about the flora and fauna found in our local habitat, consider how these environments support them and how they are all connected with one another. In western Massachusetts we have a variety of natural surroundings we can examine, including rivers, wetlands and bog, and how they support insects, birds and plants. Check out these community events that utilized our local habitats and species to support learning, along with points of entry to community engagement that include intergenerational adventures, citizen science and community service…
Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata, meaning “toothed one.” (Yes! These carnivorous insects have serrations on their strong jaws!) While they have many shared characteristics, there are important differences that allow us to tell a dragonfly from a damselfly. Learn all about these beautiful creatures and the habitats they depend upon along the Westfield River in an outdoor exploration with entomologist Kirsten Martin at Glendale Falls Brooks on Saturday, June 27 from 10am-2pm in Middlefield, MA. Organized by the Wild & Scenic Westfield River Committee, this free event requires registration: 413-623-2070.
Watershed & Wetlands
Now let’s take a moment to think about where dragonflies and damselflies are in the food chain and how they might connect with fish and birds of prey. Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls offers a free weekly program, Kidleidoscope Tuesdays, where young children can learn about the wildlife along the Connecticut River watershed and wetlands and how they fit into our ecosystem. On Tuesday, June 30 at 10:30am, the nature center interpreter will have your kids thinking about the relationship Bald Eagles have with the aquatic insects of the river. Have your kids come curious, thinking about the food chain and how aquatic insects might support larger animals like birds of prey and even otters (think “fish!). Through stories, games and creative projects, even young kids can begin to understand the importance of protecting our habitats and local species and how insects like dragonflies and larger animals like Bald Eagles play important roles in our ecosystem.
But birds and other animals aren’t the only ones who eat insects. Up in the Hilltowns you can find three native insectivorous plants that also call bugs “lunch!” On Sunday, July 12 from 10am-12:30pm, naturalist Nan Childs will lead a guided walk through the Hawley Bog. At an elevation of 1,800 feet. this pristine peatland is similar to Canadian cold bogs and in the summer unique plants come alive on the bog mat, including carnivorous plants and blooming orchids. Find out what makes this habitat so unique and the important role it plays in our ecosystem during this guided walk.
In addition to community-based educational events, families can also think about meaningful ways to engage in their community that also support learning along our watersheds. Intergenerational adventures along the river, volunteering with your family and helping to gather data as a citizen scientists are just a few value-based points of entry…
The Housatonic River is one of Western Massachusetts’ many amazing bodies of water, and the stretch that runs through Lenox is considered one of the most beautiful paddles in the state! Families with canoe experience are invited to join the Housatonic Valley Association for a free paddle out to Woods Pond along this stretch of the river on Saturday, June 27 starting at 9am, launching from Pittsfield. Along the way, you will learn about the environmental threats the river is facing as well as the proposed remediation plan which would return it to a cleaner, healthier state. Families with teenagers welcome. Preregistration required. 413-394-9796.
If you can’t make the June 27 paddle, another one will take place on Saturday, July 18 starting at 10am, launching from Great Barrington. What better way to spend a summer day than paddling down a river, taking in stunning views of western Massachusetts’ hills and farmlands while observing native animals? This free canoe trip is also led by the Housatonic Valley Association and will take you through Great Barrington into Sheffield to see the covered bridge. BYO canoe or use one provided by the HVA. Preregistration required. 413-394-9796.
Towards the end of the summer, Biocitizen in Westhampton, a non-profit school providing educational services within the field of environmental philosophy, organizes Rapid Biotic Assessments (RBA). RBA’s are a citizen scientist project which involves capturing and cataloging the bugs—benthic invertebrates —that live on the riverbed… a wet activity many adventurous kids totally dig! Certain bugs like stonefly-nymphs need lots of oxygen to survive, and when you find a bunch of them, it’s a sign that the river water is fresh and clean and that aquatic habitat is unimpaired. Volunteering with your kids or having Biocitizen work with your child’s school, allows our children to learn about the relationship between these underwater critters and the ecology of our rivers.
Lend a hand to show love for the Connecticut River! In late September, the Connecticut River Watershed Council’s annual Source to Sea Cleanup mobilizing volunteers of all ages to help clean up the banks of the Connecticut River and the streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds that make up its watershed. Families can participate by joining in on a preexisting cleanup event, or by scouting locations in need of cleaning before the event takes place. Engaging in community service helps kids learn how to give back to their community and to their environment. Helping to preserve a natural resource will help them learn to appreciate their surroundings!
All summer long and through the fall, find out about nature-based learning opportunities happening around western Massachusetts here on Hilltown Families. These are terrific ways to let your kids (and yourselves!) learn and connect with your local environment. Children who come to understand and value nature often carry that perspective into adulthood. Give the children in your life a strong, early connection to the world around them through nature-based learning activities in your community!