Hello Spring: April Events at The Nature Museum


Fall in step with the unhurried pace of nature with The Nature Museum!

Find simple ways to relax and recharge with nature's help at these upcoming events!

Engage with fantastic speakers and other like-minded kindred spirits who share your love for the natural world. The Nature Museum is dedicated to providing programs for everyone, from preschoolers to adults, related to biology, earth science and natural history. Most importantly, we offer discovery-learning programs to engage people in the wonders of nature and develop more earth stewards.


The museum is delighted to offer multiple programs in April, including special expanded hours during the week of spring break for area schools. The Museum will be open from Tuesday, April 18 through Friday, April 21 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Please stop by and see us!


Wednesday, April 12th

Dr. Alan Betts presents “The Impacts of Climate Change on Vermont” at the Newsbank Conference Center in Chester.

Award-winning atmospheric scientist, author and commentator will help Vermonters learn more about the ramifications of climate change and discover how we can move toward a more adaptable and resilient future.

Saturday, April 15th

Earth Day is every day! Mike Clough from The Southern Vermont Natural History Museum presents “VT Wildlife & Working Landscape” at the Grafton Inn's Phelps Barn.

Enjoy a multi-media program complete with live music and live wild animals! 


Earth Day is Every Day:
Spring Break Fun

Join our Environmental Educator daily Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21,  for hands-on, pro-planet activities, nature games and creative eco-art for families.

Tues. 4.18:  “Fur, Feather & Bones” at 11am. For families, by donation.

Wed. 4.19: “Blabbing About Birds and Talking About Turkeys” at 11am. For families. By donation.

Thur. 4.20:  “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” at 10am. For preschoolers and families. $5.

Fri. 4.21: Museum open from 10 am – 4 pm.

Thursday, April 27th

Get a spring tune-up just in time for bird migration season with The Bird Diva, Bridget Butler. Learn tips and tricks for bird identification, find equipment and resources, discover birding by ear and ways to find different birds.

Adult Speaker Series Update: An Enriching Weekend with Michael Phillips

Last Friday evening we welcomed Michael Phillips for an information-packed talk, followed by a field intensive on Saturday morning. Both were made possible by the generous support of Jeff Hanavan and Kate Lunde of Soul Song Farm in Chester, Vermont.

A full audience was on hand Friday night in Chester to glean as much as they could from Phillips over the course of his two-hour talk on what it means to grow apples, berries, and other fruits holistically. Phillips is the author of several books, including The Holistic Orchard: Growing Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way and his very latest Mycorrhizal Planet: How Fungi and Plants Work Together to Create Dynamic Soils.

Board President Laurie Danforth and Michael Phillips at the Friday night talk

When not traveling the country on speaking engagements, he's busy operating Lost Nation Orchard, a community orchard at Heartsong Farm, which he runs with his wife Nancy in Groveton, New Hampshire.

There was something for everyone in Phillips's comments; at times he dispersed tips and "ah-ha" moments in rapid succession. For the beginners in the audience, he stressed that he was sending out seeds of information and that it was unnecessary to take it all in and understand it all right away. And there was a lot to take in.

One of Phillips's central themes was that of diversity, including the importance of facilitating mycorrhizal growth in close proximity to your trees due to the symbiotic relationship between the mycorrhizal fungi and feeder roots.

On Saturday morning, an intimate group gathered at Soul Song Farm for a hands-on field intensive. The group was eager to soak up Michael’s refreshing permaculture tools to better steward the land. Outside the wind was whipping it up on the frozen landscape (6 degrees!). Meanwhile, inside there was a marked hum of fifteen folks chatting and connecting around Michael’s permaculture practices for growing fruit. 

The group talked for two hours indoors before even stepping foot in the field to prune fruit trees. Michael covered in depth so many ways to work with (rather than against) nature to grow more fruit. We learned that looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating fruit as a single product area, benefits us all, including our backyard gardens, however small or large they may be.

Thank you again to Jeff Hanavan and Kate Lunde’s for sharing their passion for building a better community with The Nature Museum's eager audience. This generous collaboration facilitated a stimulating weekend of learning around the sustainability themes of self-maintained habitats and agricultural systems sculpted from natural ecosystems.

Were You There?

We want to hear about your experience and your ideas for future events. 

Upcoming Events for Adults

5 Recommended Resources for Creating an Eco-Friendly Backyard

Thank you to everyone who attended “Birds, Butterflies, Backyard and Beyond" with Bryan Pfeiffer last Wednesday. We welcomed Bryan Pfeiffer to the Newsbank Conference Center in Chester as a part of our adult speaker series. Pfeiffer, a well-known figure in the New England birding world and co-author of "Birdwatching in Vermont", teaches writing for future ecologists at University of Vermont.

It was energizing to both see many familiar faces as well as a few new kindred spirits! We really hope everyone had a wonderful time at the program.  

Bryan expressed the wide opportunities we all have, regardless of the size and location of our backyards, to make them hospitable to birds, butterflies, and pollinators. Over the course of his presentation, Bryan mentioned several fantastic resources that may help you as you pursue your own version of ecological nirvana just outside your backdoor. 

Backyard Wildlife Habitat in Vermont
From Vermont Fish and Wildlife

Bringing Nature Home
This site supports the lecture series and book "Bringing Nature Home" by University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy.

"Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes"
A recommended read by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
An international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.

Grassland Bird Conservation in the Upper Valley (.PDF)
Produced by the Vermont Center for EcoStudies

As always, we would love to hear what you thought about this program if you were able to attend; all feedback is welcome.  And suggestions for new programs inspire us so if you have ideas send them our way! 

If growing things in a nature conscious way is of high interest to you, then you will definitely want to make it out to our next speaker event this Friday, March 10th in Chester. Michael Phillips will be sharing his tips for growing healthy fruit trees and berries in a sustainable fashion. Tickets for this event are available now on our website ($8) and they will be available at the door for ($10). Please do come out; pragmatism and inspiration will meet!

Twigs & Stems // March 2017

Here are a few links from around the web that caught our attention in recent weeks. Have you seen something that stuck with you that you'd like to share? Post it in the comments! Love what you see here? Follow us on Facebook, as we often post these goodies as we find them. 

©Tatiana Bulyonkova

©Tatiana Bulyonkova

Our Percussionists

By Bob Engel
Marlboro College Professor Emeritus of Biology and Environmental Science

I heard his drumming from about a mile away.  He was busy, and pounded out his even, slightly-soft-at-the-end drum role about every three minutes.  He’d found a dead but resonate dead oak branch.  Maybe both of us were feeling good about the day.  Certainly, both of us knew the days were longer…by about two hours now (a full two months after the Winter Solstice).  He gets his day length information from his own very good internal clock, not from the weather guy at WAMC.  As a result of the lengthening days, his testes are growing and pumping out testosterone.  He can’t help himself — he’s poisoned — and is rushing headlong into the time-honored rights of spring.  He wants us to know that he’s one tough hombre.  Any pileated woodpecker within about five miles knows that now.  

I saw my first Pileated Woodpecker on San Juan Island in the Puget Sound of Washington.  I had been directed to the remnants of a Revolutionary War British military camp.  The bird was in an old apple tree.  If you haven’t seen one, this is an impressive bird.  Size matters: pileated woodpeckers are almost the size of an American Crow.  Then there’s the flaming red crest and jet black body.  If you hear his vaguely maniacal call the impression is complete.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wikipedia

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wikipedia

When the dust finally settles by mid-April, we are blessed with our full complement of six nesting woodpecker species (near the Canadian border, one of ours drops out, but we might add one or even two more).  Down here in Windham County four are resident birds, and two migrate to the mid-Atlantic states and points south (a few stragglers hang on for a while).

Both of the migrants are conspicuous.  One, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker does just that: it makes lots of rows of parallel holes into the cambium of both suburban and forest edge trees, imbibing the sugar-rich sap that glistens to the surface.  Apple trees are a favorite.  Younger trees can be completely girdled and killed.  These are noisy birds, often sounding like someone is strangling them.  Their drumming is unique because it’s irregular, and if you have a metal roof, they may have startled you because your roof makes their sound that much better (at least to the drummer).  I think they’re handsome birds, but Mallory does not like them one bit because they’ve killed a number of our plantings.

The other migrant is the Northern Flicker, often seen at the side of the road eating ants and other insects.  If you go anywhere outside, you’ll hear it’s loud, rapid wik-wik-wik-wik-wik.  This can be confused with the Pileated Woodpecker’s, but it’s not as loud, not as high-pitched, and lacks the maniacal quality of the bigger bird.  Separating their calls takes a while, at least it did for me.  There’s no drumming here.  And who knows “where” this bird is going.  It’s hardly a woodpecker anymore.

Hairy Woodpecker, Wikipedia

Hairy Woodpecker, Wikipedia

That leaves three more resident woodpeckers.  One of them is new to the area, spreading north from southern forests (I just saw a bunch of them on a “sea island” off the coast of S. Georgia).  This so-called Red-bellied Woodpecker may have just a tinge of red on the belly, but the head and/or nape can be ablaze with real, honest red.  It’s a Ladder-backed Woodpecker with alternating bands of black and white running up the back.  That back makes it a cinch to ID.  They look to be here to stay; we Audubon holiday bird counters have noted a handful of them since the late 90’s.  In the last five or seven years that number has climbed to near twenty.  Almost all of this has been in the greater banana belt around Brattleboro.  In Marlboro, I have seen just one and heard of one other.

That leaves two resident lookalikes, the larger Hairy and the smaller Downy.  Both show a lot of black and white, both drum (counterintuitively, the small Downy drums more slowly).  Both are found in mixed woods, but the Downy also strays into our burbs.  The Hairy talks a lot, and has a loud “peep” and a softer “whinnie.”  Both calls seem to be more common during the breeding season.  In our last dozen holiday winter counts, the Hairy is trending downward, while the Downy is at its historic level or a little higher.  Both are taking suet at our feeder this year in Marlboro.

So what do we have here?  Six real woodpeckers, five of whom beat their drums instead of singing, four of whom stay in place all year, and two, given their dietary peculiarities, have to move south during the cold (no sap; no ground-dwelling bugs).  All of them nest in tree cavities that they find or excavate.  Cavities allow an early breeding start if the food is there: in the case of Pileated Woodpeckers, cold, slow carpenter ant colonies in early to mid-decay snags provide that energy.  For me, it isn’t a forest without a full compliment of woodpeckers.  In much of Europe these birds are less evident than they are here — there, the wind section is fine, but the percussionists are just not in the orchestra.    

A Special Group of Wild Walkers

Our Wild Walkers program took place on Wednesday this week as a part of a partnership with the Vermont Wilderness School. For children ages 10-14, the day's agenda included knife and fire skills plus a lot of fun and free exploration time. It was a fabulous day. Amy Hyatt from VWS and Kimberly O'Connor from the museum helped campers use coal from a fire they built along with knives to create their own spoon from cedar wood.  

They started a fire right off so it would prepare the coals they needed for burning their own wild spoons. Amy gave a knife skills lesson, then everyone got in the own "blood bubble" to start carving. Each kid got a cedar stick and balanced a hot coal on it to burn the spoon's bowl. Then they used a straight knife to whittle down the wood to spoon size, followed by smoothing the rough edges with sandpaper and lastly a good oiling.  Then they headed off to the woods to play "woodland bingo" and "capture the flag".

When they returned they rekindled the bonfire. Kids practiced using strikers to spark onto tiny bits of char cloth nestled in birch leaf and birch bark tinder bundles which they blew to grow the flame. 

Group leaders reported that this particular group really jelled. Kids started the day as strangers and ended as friends who shared a life changing experience in nature. 

We recently stumbled upon a great article about how to teach the art of tracking to children and how we can connect our youth to the natural world through this skill. Written by Linda McGurk, "Animal Tracking with Children: A Beginners Guide" gives some great tips for tracking and engaging our senses while in the outdoors. Check it out if you're interested in introducing tracking to your child or picking up new skills yourself!

Our next Wild Walkers program is schedule for this summer on July 19th. Learn more>


Brave Bears Enjoyed Warm Temps On Their Snowshoeing Adventure

We feel lucky that we were still able to put our snowshoes to work this past week at our two environmental education programs, Brave Bears and Wild Walkers, that we held to coincide with local schools' winter breaks. 

We welcomed an excited group of naturalists ages 6-9 on Tuesday for our Brave Bears program. Our campers started the day with an environmental education lesson that detailed how animals survive in the winter and included the clues that we can look for in our search for our furry friends during this cold season. The campers then enjoyed time exploring and playing outside. They all had a great time playing "Red Light, Green Light" on snowshoes. While hiking our Fairy Trail, we found fox, coyote, squirrel and deer tracks.  We ended our day by listening to author Charles Norris-Brown read his story "Did Tiger Take the Rain" about drought in Nepal. Thank you Charles for sharing your work with our group! 

Learn more about our Wild Walkers program that took place on Wednesday, February 22nd.>

Coming Together for Kindred Spirits

IMG_2600 (1).JPG

With sunny skies and springs like weather program Kindred Spirits participants on Saturday, February 18th enjoyed a short presentation by environmental educator Jay DeGregorio about Vermont animals' winter adaptations and tracking. After, they strapped on their snowshoes to explore one of Grafton Pond's great trails.  Beside seeing coyote tracks and evidence of some woodpeckers work they learned about snowshoeing techniques and tree identification.

Kindred Spirits is a monthly Saturday program series designed to build a greater understanding between all creatures of the Earth by exploring the mysteries of nature. By offering a shared experience that draws families together, participants will develop a stronger kinship with our Earth and each other. Programs will take place rain or shine, with hands-on activities both indoors and out.