Thursday, February 15, 2018

Branch Hoppers Discover Natural History Wonders at Tennant Lake Boardwalk

The Branch Hoppers arrived at Tennant Lake Park with some rowdy energy that needed corralling. After witnessing the group wrestling in the Cattails the mentors called for an opening circle to discuss the plan for the day. The mentors were excited to delve into the world of birds and adaptations with the Explorers.
The mentors handed out five slips of paper pairing off the group. Written on each slips was a specific bird behavior with an accompanying type of call. The Explorers task was to act out the behavior using the call. Silly activities like this are a great way for kids to begin to understand bird language and are simultaneously hilariously entertaining. Please ask your Explorer about the different five different types of birdcalls.
After an intro into bird behavior the mentors passed around a few wooden replicas of bird beaks. Each beak shape demonstrated how it was specifically adapted for a unique diet. There was a beak for crunching seeds, one with a long tongue adapted to catch bugs stuck in the sap of trees, one for sucking up nectar, and one for processing small birds and mammals.
The Mentors also brought along Wild Whatcom’s small collection of bird nests. The boys carefully examined each nest and were fascinated by the complexity and vastly different make-up of each one. One nest was quite relevant to our location; taking a good look at the Marsh Wren’s oval shaped nest woven out of cattails lined with plant down the boys made the connection to the grass they had been wrestling in and its necessity for the Marsh Wren’s survival. 
Once we were oriented to all things birds we passed out some binoculars and field guides while explaining to the group that we were headed to a mile-long boardwalk through the wetland. Before leaving we handed out some additional materials for an experiment to capture and ignite methane gas trapped in the wetland.
The boys then climbed to the top of the Tennant Lake observation tower overlooking the boardwalk. The platform vantage provided crystal clear views of Mt. Baker and the Twin Sisters. One of the Explorers commented that “he couldn’t believe that he had never been here “.
As we walked the mentors chatted with a few interested boys about the importance of wetlands for providing habitat, water purification, trapping sediment, preventing flooding, and allowing water to slowly seep into the ground table.
Arriving at the boardwalk the boys investigated a beaver lodge that was thought to be inactive. Getting close to it the Explorers estimated that it was fifteen feet in diameter and while looking noticing that every stick placed on top of the lodge had signs of fresh beaver teeth marks. How cool is that this lodge could be reclaimed and reused and to think how each stick was specifically placed with intention and care.
Heading out to the first viewpoint of the lake we pulled out our swamp gas experiment. Filling a two-liter bottle with water we placed the funnel in its mouth and submerged it in the water upside-down. Finding a long stick, the boys churned up the muck at the bottom of the lake and the methane bubbles trapped under the sediment started to rise to the top. Capturing it the water in the bottle was slowly replaced by the methane.
Capping the bottle of trapped methane under water boys grabbed a few strike-anywhere matches but soon realized that they did not have an ideal place to strike them. They resorted to using a flint and steal to ignite a little cattail fluff, which would then ignite the match head. Try as they might the wind was too strong to provide ignition.
Hiking along the boardwalk the group found a sheltered spot behind a cattail hedge and tried again. After multiple tries they were successful in getting a match to light, but failed to ignite the methane. The experiment was not a failure however because it provided the Explorers with an opportunity to work through the process and apply critical thinking. The practice of persistent problem solving is a skill that will benefit these boys throughout their whole lives.
Finding an open space on the boardwalk the group lunched and viewed some Coots feeding in the lake and a watchful Red-tailed Hawk perched in a Cedar above them. Once the group was fueled it was the perfect opportunity to transition into a sit spot. Tucking away in the solitude of the Sweet Gale and Pacific Willow some boys got quiet and listened to the Red-winged Blackbirds companion calling. As one of the mentors sat a Marsh Wren darted by and looked as though it was establishing it’s breeding territory. 
Grouping back up we walked the second half of the board walk and identified the beaver highways grouping the wetland and the sweet smelling “Pine Sol” like scent of the castor oil scent mounds used by beavers to establish their territory.
Heading over to the Hovander Historic Homestead the boys played games in the field and we ended our day by presenting a leadership model with an activity.
Making an X and Y-axis with rope in the field the mentors explained that the four quadrants of the grid represented different leadership styles. (Please see the visual aid for a breakdown of the four leadership styles.) Reading a bit about each style the boys were asked to place themselves in the quadrant that best represented them. It was fascinating how the boys placed themselves and they each had a chance to explain why they had placed themselves within the quadrant. They were then asked to place themselves in the quadrant that was most challenging for them to embody and the quadrant they were most likely to access when mentoring with the younger Explorers  
The Branch Hoppers really brought genuineness and focus to this activity and had some astute self-reflection. For all the silliness and lack of focus this group has demonstrated at times, this activity was a great reminder that there is self-assessment and awareness growing in these boys even if they are not always able to express it in front of their peers and mentors. Brain and I aim to continue to present this model to the group as a way for them to orient to and discuss leadership. Our hope it that it becomes common language that the group can use in real time.
For a majority of this outing the Branch Hoppers showed camaraderie and the group climate felt very bonded. However, during the leadership style activity a few of the boys made wise cracks about a few of the other Explorers personal examples. This type of humor has been growing in some of the group members along with subtle clicks and diverging interests. These behaviors are typical of middle school but will not serve our Branch Hoppers or stand in the confines of our programming. Brian and I have been talking about bullying, inclusion, and what qualities make a caring and concerned group member and leader throughout the season. There is a growing need for more direct and timely intervention strategies. Challenging, but beneficial, interpersonal work lies ahead for the Branch Hoppers.  
We hope to nip these behaviors in the bud while providing room for conversation, growth, and grace. As mentors Brian and I are honored to meet these challenges head on and are thankful to work through them with your sons in these formative years.
 For more pictures from our outing please visit the Branch Hoppers’ photo album from the day.