Friday, January 14, 2011

Oakland Nature Preserve

We took a field trip this morning to the Oakland Nature Preserve with our home-school group. It included a three hour, guided tour. Despite the chilly weather, we had a fabulous time.

The tour started out along the boardwalk through the wetlands. Mr. Clay, our tour guide, explained that the boardwalk follows the flow of water. So whenever there is a twist or turn, it's because the water twists and turns on its way down hill toward the lake. Along the way, Mr. Clay stopped every so often to explain different parts of the wetlands to us. He explained that sometimes when trees die, they remain standing up right, and become homes to all kinds of animals and insects. Birds also use the trees to hide nuts and berries, so they can find them later when food becomes scarce.

We also learned that even though most of the plant life was brown and crinkly, it was not dead. Once warmer weather returns, those plants will spring back to life, and the wetlands will be lush and green once more.

Several trees were fallen over, and the kids asked if beavers were the culprits. As it turns out, the soft muddy ground, sometimes causes the trees to fall over on their own. When those trees threaten to fall across the boardwalk, people go in and cut the tree, so it will fall in the opposite direction. The fallen trees remain in place, so as they decay, they feed nutrients back into the habitat.

Off the boardwalk, was a path that led to a gazebo, outdoor classroom, and a great climbing tree. All the kids took turns climbing the tree, and jumping across the wooden benches where classes are taught. It turns out the person who owns the land beside the preserve, has the unusual hobby of raising exotic animals. So while we were on that side we peeked thru the fence and got to see a couple Emus prancing about.

Back on the boardwalk, we followed it around to Lake Apopka. Although there are several large alligators in the lake, we were not fortunate enough to spot any today. They were probably hiding away from the cold, not to mention the loud group of kids thundering about. We did spot a lot of white foam floating atop the surface of the lake. Mr. Clay explained that the foam was secreted by algae, because of the cold, and was perfectly normal.

Out of the wetlands, and closer to the visitor center, was a large area that was being restored to it's natural habitat, after spending several decades as an orange grove. We explored thru there for a bit, and that was where we spotted an owl, flying high in the trees. The owl spied down on us, while we came across a bush of beautyberries, which each child promptly picked and tried, after getting the go ahead from Mr. Clay. Beautyberries are small purple berries, sometimes made into wine or juice, but an abundance of sugar must be added to mask their somewhat bitter taste.

Back at the visitor center, Mr. Clay let the kids have an encounter with a snapping turtle, and a very friendly snake. They also got to explore a small museum, filled with some Florida historical artifacts, as well as native Florida wild life remains.

Lucas told me the snake was his favorite part of the trip, and Nico concurred, but also added that he had a lot of fun jumping across the benches at the outdoor classroom. Our group is talking about making this part of our monthly routine, and I couldn't be happier with that idea. In fact, before we even left, Nico was asking if we could return next month, when they have their new alligator pools finished.

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