Diary of an Urban Watershed, First Entry
by Tracy S. Feldman
In this first diary entry, I will introduce myself and explain what I aim to do with this project.
Who I am — the nutshell version:
I am an ecologist and educator living in Durham, NC. I grew up in the Philadelphia area, and have spent time exploring nature in many places along the East and West Coasts, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Costa Rica. I am thrilled by biodiversity (many species found together in one place), and by the astounding stories in nature—the cool adaptations that allow living things to do what they do, and the amazing ways living things interact. I am a biology professor, birdwatcher, musician, songwriter, volunteer environmental educator with the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA) and the NC Museum of Life and Science, and father of a three-year-old. More about me is below.
Environmental education activities I am running this summer (June and July 2014):
This summer, I have teamed up with ECWA to run a series of nature activities for elementary-school-age kids and their parents. My main objectives are to help people: connect with the natural world, enjoy nature, and learn about the world around us.
The activities will range from music-making with natural objects to exploring how living things interact with each other, to exploring biodiversity. Activities will be held on Saturdays from 10 to 11:30, and are free and open to anyone who wishes to register for them (through the ECWA web site; 15 kids maximum). I will follow each activity with a blog post about biology and natural history related to the activity we did that week.
For educators, I will also post instructions for these activities, so that anyone can use these exercises if they wish, modifying them for use in their location. I will also share thoughts about what worked, pitfalls, suggestions for improvement, and possible modifications people can try. These will all be indexed from the main blog site.
Who I am—the longer version:
Growing up northeast of Philadelphia in the suburbs, I always loved to look for strange creatures lurking under rocks, or searching out mysterious birds skulking in the bushes or flying over the fields around my house. I remember identifying an American Goldfinch for the first time by sound (and sight), getting strange looks from people as I tried to imitate the sound for myself. The outdoors always held promise for me, with opportunities to see amazing things. I grew up drooling over photos of birds and other living things from all over the world, wondering if I’d live long enough to see any of them.
Since then, I’ve had the great fortune to realize some of these dreams: hearing the trumpets of sandhill cranes from miles away, then seeing flocks descend into fields to feed at dawn; watching umbrella birds display in trees over my head, inflating their large red wattles to make their eerie calls; seeing Venus flytraps capture insects, or finding parasitic coral root orchids in dense, dark old-growth forests; hearing the echo of a bellbird ring across a cloud-enveloped, forested tropical valley with more shades of green than one could name. My paths have taken me from the eastern forests to the wet forests and deserts of Washington state, from Florida sandhills and beaches to the prairies of Oklahoma, to oak savannahs and boreal forests in Wisconsin, and to cloud forests of Costa Rica and boreal forests in Chile.
Now I am back in Durham, and I try to take advantage of the many urban parks here. The more I learn, the more I realize that astounding natural history is playing out all around us, even in more urban settings. Right here in Durham, we can see upwards of 20 species of small jewel-like warblers passing through 17 Acre Wood Nature Preserve in spring migration. We can hear the deafening calls of frogs at Butner Gamelands in spring, and see dozens of spotted salamander “congresses” (balls of males) vying for access to females in vernal ponds in Duke Forest. We can see pinesap and Indian pipes, plants that have lost their ability to make their own food and instead parasitize fungi on tree roots. We can, on occasion, find an insect taken over by a fungal parasite, looking almost like the ghost crossed with a version of the body snatchers. We have at least two species of fungi that glow in the dark, as well as the copious fireflies in late spring. These things are magic, yet are almost as commonplace and accessible as our own front porches.
Since middle school, I had a strong sense that the amazing living things in our world might not be around forever. At an overnight camp I attended, I took a long walk through what seemed like vast forest, and came to a very large clearcut. That experience and others like it made me aware of human impact on other species, and how important it is that we humans work to understand and preserve the natural world around us. In high school, I worked with neighbors and local land trusts to protect land behind my house in Connecticut. Along with these experiences, I began to broaden my awareness of the world beyond my backyard. I paid close attention to reports of rainforest destruction, and became determined to do something with my life to help people connect with and protect the natural world. For many years since then, I have pursued the path of an ecologist and educator, working at Universities and leading hikes to help educate the public about natural history. I am currently working toward an NC Environmental Education Certification, and have been gaining experiences working with younger kids. This summer, I am thrilled to partner with the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association to lead a series of environmental education activities for kids.
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Last updated June 2014
Created May 2014