What To Do When They Close School
by Hannah Floyd
March 16, 2020
[Note: It’s been less than 24 hours since I wrote this, and the situation with the coronavirus is rapidly changing. I realize there are new restrictions on where we can go, including parks. However, I think my suggestions could be put to use in our backyards and even balconies and porches. If it comes to that, maybe I’ll write about that too! –Hannah]
Hey, everyone! My name is Hannah Floyd, and I am a ninth-grader in Colorado. Like many of you reading this, I am on an extended break due to the coronavirus. What does one do in a situation like this? Go outside and explore, of course! This past Friday, our first day off, I decided to head outdoors and look for organisms around my house. I went to Hecla Pond, near my home in Lafayette, Colorado. It was a dreary, still afternoon, but nature did not disappoint. Throughout the day, I used two apps, iNaturalist and Instagram, to share my experiences.
I saw these three pelicans, my first pelicans of the year:
American White Pelicans do not winter here in Colorado. I noticed that these pelicans, especially the one on the far left, did not appear to be getting along. He’s got the poor guy in the middle in a chokehold:
I captured this short video:
It was interesting because I have never seen pelicans behave this way before. I think of them as peaceful and cooperative, but evidently not this trio.
Assuming you have your video on, you probably noticed another bird in that video. It is the sound of Canada Geese of course, and here is a photo of one of the geese at Hecla Pond:
One thing interesting about Canada Geese at this time of year is their behavioral change. We are accustomed to seeing the iconic V-shape flying high in the sky, or hearing the honking and swishing of wings as thousands take flight from a lake. At this time of year, however, you mostly see only pairs of geese, and this is because they are preparing for nesting season. I shared this fact on Instagram, and I got multiple comments from people who mentioned that they hadn’t noticed this behavioral difference. It’s wonderful to have these kind of connections on social media platforms, and I have learned a great deal about birds and other animals through meeting others online.
As I was walking along the shoreline of Hecla Pond, I noticed these raccoon footprints:
It was challenging to get a photo because the footprints were actually under the water. I got help identifying these footprints with the iNaturalist app. I’m sure many of you have heard of iNaturalist. Essentially, it is an identification app for anything living—vertebrates, insects, other arthropods, plants, fungi, and more. iNaturalist can identify animal feces and footprints—even if they’re under the water. I was amazed that iNaturalist was able to identify these footprints as those belonging to a raccoon, through the murkiness of the water and the relatively poor quality of my photo.
Among my favorite finds of the afternoon were these strangely named “virile crayfish” (virile meaning “manly”). They, and their, er, various body parts, were scattered about the shoreline and floating lazily in the turbid water:
Even though they were dead, iNaturalist was able to identify them for me. I’ve noticed that virile crayfish are favorites of Hooded Mergansers, which were all over the lake and eating the crayfish. I am not good at identifying crustaceans, and with the iNaturalist app, not only was I able to figure out what this species was exactly, but I learned some more about characteristics of virile crayfish, and I looked at their range map. iNaturalist is trustworthy and rarely faulty with their identifications. This is, in part, due to the fact that iNaturalist has “curators,” who are basically experts at identifying certain types of organisms. I have learned a boatload about organisms that I am less familiar with, especially fungi, plants, and most arthropods. And, I am able to lend a helping hand in identifying organisms that I am much more familiar with, like birds, mammals, and some insects.
Though I did find mainly dead crayfish, I was thrilled to find a live one. It was very hard to get a video, but here is an attempt:
I shared both this video and the pelican video with my friends on Instagram. As far as I know, it is not yet possible to upload videos to iNaturalist. Maybe someday?
Finally, I took a picture of this good ol’ American Robin:
Yes, it may be “just a robin,” but robins are such a promising sign of spring. I shared this picture on Instagram as well, and again, I received comments from people saying how excited they were for spring, just like this cheery robin. I find it so cool and also comforting to know that even in scary and uncertain times, such as the one we are experiencing right now, people can come together and share experiences we all enjoy.
This whole coronavirus situation is unnerving, and there is still a lot of uncertainty and misinformation floating around. Personally, I find solace and relief in being outside in nature. Even if I’m not finding any novel, rare organisms, I am still enjoying seeing the more common animals and plants. It’s fun to go out and share your sightings.
Hannah Floyd is a high school student interested in ecology and biology (and microbiology), especially birds, insects, plants, and amphibians! 🐸🌲🐛🦆🍄🦉
Photo by © Eliana Ardila.