Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership

Nature Camp at Neutaconkanut Hill this Summer 

The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership is partnering with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island to host a Nature Camp at Neutaconkanut Hill this summer! Children ages 6 to 12 are able to enjoy hikes up the Hill, nature games, focus on learning about Native Americans from the area and learn to identify local plant and animal species in our great city. Be sure to check out photos from our past two weeks of camp!

Nature Explorers Camp 2015

Click here to view photos from Nature Explorers Camp, hosted July 27 – 31

Wilderness Skills Camp - July

Click here to view photos from Wilderness Skills Camp, hosted from July 20 – 24



Invasive Species Walk and Talk to be hosted July 18th from 9:00am – 10:30am at Blackstone Park in Providence 

ALBEEBWe’ve seen the destruction an Invasive Species can have on our trees in Rhode Island with the recent arrival of the Winter Moth. As with most Invasive Species, early detection is key! Cindy Kwolek, Outreach Coordinator with the RI Department of Environmental Management, will teach participants to look for signs and symptoms of two invasive species that threaten our Rhode Island forests: the Asian Longhorn Beetle and Emerald Ash Borer.  With your help, we can keep these invasive species out of our state! Join us at Blackstone Park in the field right across from the Narragansett Boat Club (2 River Rd. in Providence, RI) for a walk-and-talk program addressing the issues with our invading insects as well as learn how you can be on the forefront of invasive species control in your neighborhood!

Program is best for ages 12+, but has no age restriction. All who want to become educated in this issue are welcome!

Teacher Institute of 2015

July 8 2015 

Our teacher participants from the Teacher Institute checked the traps we set at Blackstone, Neutaconkanut Hill and Roger Williams Park this morning. Due to the precipitation over the past 24 hours, we were unsure of how many carrion beetles we would discover in the traps. In Roger Williams Park site, we found 2 different types of carrion beetles, including Nicrophorus tomentosus, a carrion beetle that looks somewhat like a bee, and Nicrophorus orbicollis, a smaller black beetle. At Neutaconkanut Hill, we found not only some of the Nicrophorus orbicollis and Nicrophorus tomentosus, but also some Necrophila americana and Oiceoptoma inaequale . Click on the names of these four species in the write-up to get more information about them.

To see images of the species we’ve caught and meet the teachers in the Teacher Institute, follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/urbanwildliferefuge and follow us on Instagram at @riurbanrefuge


Teacher Institute of 2015

July 6 – 10 2015 

The Teacher Institute is a week-long professional development workshop available to all Providence teachers working in grades 4 – 8 who want to better engage their students in outdoor education during schoolday and afterschool programming. This workshop gives teachers an opportunity to learn how to supplement their curriculum with both indoor and outdoor lessons using public parks as outdoor classrooms! The Teacher Institute is hosted through a partnership with the Roger Williams Park Zoo, US Fish and Wildlife Service, RI National Wildlife Refuge Complex, RI Department of Environmental Management and the Southern New England – New York Bight Coastal Program.

The teachers also get an opportunity to be involved in a state-wide conservation effort with the Director of Conservation at the Roger Williams Park Zoo, Lou Perrotti, as he instructs the teachers in how to trap for American Burying Beetles. Teacher participants learn about the many conservation efforts being put forth by the Roger Williams Park Zoo, in collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Southern New England – New York Bight Coastal Program, RI Department of Environmental Management, and many more partners.

To stay up-to-date with our findings and lessons from day to day, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/urbanwildliferefuge and follow us on Instagram at @riurbanrefuge

French-American School Visits Blackstone Park 

May 14 2015 

11110163_954390674606203_3403330139109604788_oThe 6th Grade Students from the French-American School spent some time IN Hockey Pond! For many, this was their first time wearing mud boots and wading into the water. We did a quick lesson on how to use mud boots in a pond (don’t let the water go over the top!) and learned how to use the nets to catch animals living in the water. The students had a blast trying to walk through the sticky sand on the bottom of the pond and tried their hand at catching critters! We caught a damselfly and a local fisherman brought over a Blue-Gill Fish for us to examine!

D’Abate Elementary School Visits Riverside Park 

May 13 2015 

11009930_954321201279817_4718134253317899613_oRay Allsworth’s 4th Grade Class returned to Riverside Park for the first time this spring! The students discussed what the park looked like back in the Fall when they focused on getting to know the specific habitats they would be reporting on all year. Many noted that the trees had little to no leaves left, the water level was lower than usual and that we were finding lots of insects like spiders, crickets and grasshoppers, but nothing aquatic.


11203540_954321231279814_1476709958078264841_oWe walked to the park and split into two groups. One group went with Mr. Allsworth to study the field and meadow while the other went with April Alix to study the river and the river bank.

11242795_954321384613132_1305978585156162047_oAll students were able to study all 4 habitats and compared the species found in Fall with what was found that spring!

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School 

May 12, 2015 

IMG_20150512_144505311[1]Today, the kindergarten students from Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School took their first trip to the park for the spring! Before heading on our way, the students were asked about some of the things they remember spotting during Fall. Students commented on the seeds they remember finding in fall (pinecones, acorns, etc.) and that all the leaves were yellow or brown and many were on the ground. They also said that the grass was brown and they didn’t see any flowers or bees.

We head over to Fargnoli Park where the students were asked to look around and use their observation skills to notice what was different in Spring. One student pointed out that the leaves on the trees were all green. Another mentioned that the leaves on the pine trees behind him were the same in Fall and in Springtime. Others noticed all the flowers that were all around the park. Many said they had similar flowers in their own yards (daffodils and dandelions).

We then took a small walk through the park to look closely at many parts of the park. We observed two dandelions: one that was a yellow flower and the other was a grey seed head. We talked about how both of these items were dandelions, but they were at different stages of their life cycle. We were able to relate their seeds that they planted in the classroom to the seeds we saw on the dandelion. We also talked about some animals we saw on the dandelion, such as ants and bees. They use the dandelion for nourishment, so though many people don’t like dandelions in their yard, they serve a great purpose here at the park.

We then hiked over to the garden space where we used a different sense to observe: the sense of smell! We picked a leaf off of a mint plant and rubbed it between our fingers. The leaf had a sweet smell, which the students enjoyed! They also noticed that the leaves were fuzzy and felt nice on their

IMG_20150512_145650815[1]One of the things we noticed was that many of the leaves on the maple trees had holes on them. We discussed what might make these types of holes on leaves and why. We deduced that it must be some type of insect, potentially a caterpillar, that was eating these leaves. The students explained that caterpillars eat leaves and other plant parts so that they can become big enough to go through metamorphosis and become a butterfly or moth. On one leaf, we found a caterpillar munching away! Each of the students was able to observe this caterpillar eating.

We ended our park trip by helping out our pollinator friends and our dandelions by spreading some seeds! We discussed why a dandelion flower develops so that the seeds are located on the very top and look like tiny umbrellas, so the wind can carry them all over the park space to grow. We all picked a dandelion full of seeds and blew on it, just like the wind!
That wasn’t the end of our day though! We finished up the day by helping to prepare the garden space outside of the school! Students put on work gloves and held trash bags as we tore out the old Sunflower stalks and removed any debris from the garden space. This will be the future home to more plants that the students are growing!

Parks Academy: Project WILD

May 2, 2015 

IMG_20150502_110511084[1]In collaboration with the Partnership for Providence Parks, the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Complex and RI Department of Environmental Management came together to offer a Project WILD training specifically targeting activities that can be done in and around urban park spaces and schoolyards. Kimberly Sullivan of the RI Dept. of Environmental Management led our group in these activities from programs Project WILD, Aquatic WILD and Growing Up Wild.

Project WILD is one of the most widely-used conservation and environmental education programs among educators of students in kindergarten through high school. The program emphasizes wildlife because of their intrinsic, ecological value as well as their role in teaching how ecosystems function. In the face of competing needs and pressures affecting the quality and sustainability of life on earth, Project WILD addresses the need for human beings to develop as responsible citizens of our planet. It is based on the premise that young people and educators have a vital interest in learning about our natural world.

IMG_20150502_114036030[1]The activities found in Project WILD instructional materials are intended for use in both classroom and informal settings and are designed to support state and national academic standards appropriate for grades K-12. The activities can easily be adapted to meet the learning requirements for academic disciplines ranging from science and environmental education to social studies, math, and language arts. Educators may choose one or more Project WILD activities to teach a concept or skill. The activities may be integrated into existing courses of study, or an entire set of activities may serve effectively as the basis for a specific course.

This information and more can be found at: http://www.projectwild.org/

The participants in our Parks Academy Project WILD workshop spent their afternoon pretending to be the students they teach. They engaged in activities that ranged from singing songs about worms as preschool students to analyzing outdoor spaces for resources and shelter for urban wildlife. Each participant received 3 books, highlighting curriculum that can be used for both formal and informal education programming as well as outlines ways to blend indoor and outdoor engagement for classroom teachers.

We hope to offer another Project WILD program in the future for other interested participants!

Spaziano Elementary School Visits Kettle Pond Visitor Center

April 30, 2015 

IMG_20150430_112513071[1]The explorers from Teresa Sangermano’s 4th grade class at Spaziano Elementary School took a trip to South County to check out some wildlife at Kettle Pond Visitor Center! Joined by Andrea Stein from the Roger Williams Park Zoo and April Alix from the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, the students arrived at the Visitor Center ready to hike! We started the day by a hike along the Overlook trail, where we learned about different types of trees along the way. We also learned about the history of the land, including what a Kettle Pond is and how glaciers played a major role in how the landscape looks today.

At the overlook, students took the time to peek through the scopes to see a barrier beach, Narragansett Bay and even Block Island! Most students have never seen Block Island before. Everyone enjoyed trying out the scopes and getting a view from up high.

We then had a picnic lunch outside on the deck of the Visitor Center. While out there, many of our students watched birds who visited the Bird Feeders! We saw Tufted Titmouse, Nuthatches, Cardinals, Robins and even a Mockingbird. We also took a close-up look at Carpenter Ants, which have an abdomen covered in small, golden hair-like structures. One student even saw a mouse!

IMG_20150430_124457535[1]In the afternoon, the students had a brief, indoor lesson on Frogs and Salamanders. They learned about the life cycle of a frog in comparison to the life cycle of a salamander. Both were very similar in that frogs and salamanders lay their eggs in small, freshwater pools and the babies hatch and live in water for the beginning of their lives. Both sets of hatchlings have specialized breathing parts that allow for them to breathe underwater – similar to how fish use gills to breathe. As they go through a big change, called metamorphosis, the frogs and salamanders take on their adult forms and continue the rest of their lives on land! As amphibians, they can only live in moist environments, so many take up residences in and around the vernal pool area. The students also learned the calls of 3 types of frogs: Spring Peepers, Green Frogs and Wood Frogs!

From there, the students took a hike to a vernal pool on the other side of the refuge. Along the way, we spotted many small, purple moths. At the vernal pool, we saw that the water was teeming with life! The entire bank of the vernal pool was full of small, dark, tadpoles. We used a net to scoop some of these tadpoles into a bucket and were able to examine them up-close. We also took a good look at a water strider.

One of the students found a Harvestman that caught their eye. The students learned that Harvestman are in the arachnid family, however cannot be classified as a spider as they have only one middle body part. Harvestman are sometimes called “Daddy Long Legs” and like to hang out in dark, damp areas, so the vernal pool area was a great place to find one! Some of the students took the time to let the Harvestman walk across their hand!

IMG_20150430_130549398[1]Finally, the students spent a portion of the afternoon taking a 12 Inch Hike. Using a piece of ribbon, the students chose a spot and made a comprehensive list of all the things they found around their 12 Inch Ribbon. They did this at Neutaconkanut Hill in Providence back in the fall, so the students will, later, compare and contrast the things they found out at the Refuge to those they found at Neutaconkanut Hill. One pair of students discovered acorns that had begun to sprout! Others found grubs and millipedes. We even found an adult salamander who had taken up residence under a log near the vernal pool!

The trip was a great success and these scientists took home many great memories from their trip to Kettle Pond.

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School 

April 28 2015 

Today, the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership visited Ms. Pinksaw’s class at Robert F. Kennedy Elementary. During the Fall, the students studied nature out at their local park across the street from their school. Ms. Pinksaw and her class of scientists were ready to study the outdoors again! In today’s class, the students learned about plants! The students will be planting a small garden outside their classroom, so the students were responsible to plant the seeds in small, plastic cups. The hope is that the students will be able to see some of the plants take root by looking through the clear, plastic cups. The students planted corn, zinnias, carrots and beans. We compared all the different seeds to see how different they looked and even considered the differences in how beans and corn kernels look different in the seed bags than they do on our dinner plates. Each student will be able to take some plants home at the end of the year.

Providence Parks Earth Day Celebration

April 25 2015 

The City of Providence celebrated Earth Day with clean ups all over the city on the morning of April 25th! Though in past years, snow, sleet and rain fell on our volunteers, this year’s clean up was bright and sunny for a change! During the afternoon the City collaborated with the RI Tree Council to host a Tree Huggapalooza as Providence attempted to set the record for the Largest Simultaneous Tree Hugging Event! Prior to the Tree Hug itself, all were invited to take part in fun activities throughout the park, including a Fairy House Building, Beaded-Rock Creations, Tree Paper-Mache and enjoyment listening to the Brown Band. Promptly at 3pm, Mayor Jorge Elorza initiated the Tree Huggapalooza event and everyone hugged their trees for a minute! Though Providence didn’t break the record this year, all who participated had a fantastic time and we hope to break that record next year!

Lincoln School 

April 22 2015 

Happy Earth Day! The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership was pleased to partner with the Blackstone Park Conservancy to explore Blackstone Park with a group of Kindergarteners from the Lincoln School. Rick Richards, head of the Education Committee of the Blackstone Park Conservancy, and April Alix of the Urban Partnership, met the students at Lincoln School and walked the group to Blackstone Park. After a brief introduction, the students started their hike around the park, observing all types of plants and animals! Many spotted daffodils along the way. At one station, the students sifted through the leaves to find earthworms! We discussed the importance of earthworms to soil as they help not only put nutrients back into the ground, but also aerate the soil so plants can grow! We learned about a worm’s clitellum and how that will eventually aid in the worm laying eggs in the soil. Further on our hike, we discovered millipedes, ground beetles and even a cockroach! We finished off our Earth Day by making sure to say ‘thank you’ to nature! Each student found a tree and gave it a good, long, hug!

Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference

April 21 2015 

The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership was invited to participate in the 71st Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference in Newport, RI. The presentation highlighted all the work being done in Providence as well as the importance of partnerships within our collaborative as they are the key to success and sustainability. Kim Sullivan from the RI Department of Environmental Management and Tylar Green from the US Fish and Wildlife Service spoke on behalf of each of their respective organizations, highlighting their work within the partnership and how this program is meeting their goals in engaging urban audiences in outdoor education.

Roger Williams Park Zoo Trip

April 14 2015 

IMG_20150414_103536669 The 5 teachers who participated in the Teacher Institute in 2014 came together to plan a trip to the Roger Williams Park Zoo together. Ray from D’Abate Elementary School, Teresa from Spaziano Elementary School and Keri, Beth and Pam from George J. West Elementary School loaded onto school buses and arrived at Roger Williams Park Zoo for a chance to explore as a group! The students all had fun learning about native and non-native animals as well as use some of their prior knowledge from the free Zoomobile program that came to their zoo. IMG_20150414_122131967

At lunch, the class from Spaziano Elementary School and class from D’Abate Elementary School gathered for lunch and had a share-out session. The D’Abate Elementary students told the Spaziano students all about the things they saw on their Field Trip to the National Wildlife Refuge as the Spaziano Students were going on their trip in two weeks. The Spaziano students told the D’Abate Elementary students about the different experiences they had and data they collected on their walking trips to Neutaconkanut Hill. The D’Abate Elementary students then shared about how their trips to Riverside Park were similar in some ways, but different in others.

Overall, the students had a great time at the zoo and enjoyed hearing about each others adventures!

IMG_20150414_130935140 IMG_20150414_121624423

Presentation at the Regional Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service  

Hadley, MA
March 30 2015 

The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge partnership was given the opportunity to give a presentation at the Regional Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, MA. This presentation was broadcast nationally and highligted all the work being done in Providence in collaboration with the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. This broadcast was recorded and can be viewed by clicking play on the video below. The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership portion runs from mark 14:25 – 30:50. Due to a slight recording error, the student testimonials were cut short and the rest of the presentation resumes directly after the video freeze. The clip of the student testimonials can be viewed, in it’s entirety, by clicking here.


Roger Williams University Career Fair 

March 25 2015 


The US Fish and Wildlife Service, RI National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership were well represented today at Roger Williams University’s Career Fair! We had a chance to meet many students and alumni from the college who had an interest in environmental sciences, visitor services, and urban engagement. We hope to see some of the people we met interning with our programs next year!

Vincent Brown Recreation Center

March 24 2015 

IMG_20150226_170343422The afterschool students at the Vincent Brown Recreation Center dove into their afternoon learning about Whales and Fish! We started off the afternoon learning a bit about fish. Fish are coldblooded animals that use gills to help them breathe underwater. They are covered in scales and come in all shapes and sizes. We learned that Sharks are considered a special type of fish because their bones are made of cartilage instead of bone. We explored some very crazy looking fish, including a Barrel-Eye Fish which has a transparent head, and a Blobfish, which looks like a squishy, unhappy face! Click on the names of those fish to see photos of them!

We then learned all about whales. Whales are mammals, just like humans, and they require air to breathe. Instead of pulling their mouths out of the water each time they need to breathe, they have a blowhole on top of their heads. This is essentially like having a nose on the top of your head! By having a blowhole on top of their head, they are able to only surface a small portion of their body in order to take a nice, deep breath before diving back down again. Because they are mammals, whales are warm blooded. They also eat a variety of foods depending on their mouthparts.

There are two types of whales: whales who have teeth and whales who use baleen to eat their food. Whales with teeth include Sperm Whales and Orca Whales. These animals tend to hunt and catch their prey, including seals and fish. Whales with baleen, such as Humpback Whales and Blue Whales, essentially sift krill and small fish out of the water. The baleen act like a screen – letting water out but capturing all the prey inside their mouth. They generally take in a big mouthful of water and krill (but don’t swallow it!) and use their big tongue to push all the water out of their mouth through their baleen. When all the water is gone, the krill are trapped and make a tasty treat for the whale!

During the program, we made a Porthole Fish Craft where we used Goldfish crackers to make an underwater scene. We also tested out what it was like to be covered in blubber. Whales have a layer of fat surrounding their body that helps them to stay warm while swimming through cooler water. Each student took a chance wearing a ‘Blubber Glove’, which was two plastic bags filled with Vegetable Shortening. They put the blubber glove on one hand and left the other one bare and stuck both hands into ice water. Whew! That ice water was sure cold on their bare hand! All the students said they could feel a big difference between their hand that was insulated by the Blubber Glove and the one that was bare. We also had a chance to try capturing prey in our own set of baleen! Using a comb, we sifted beads out of a jar of water to simulate capturing krill.

We had a great time learning about our biggest animals on the planet – and some little ones too!

D’Abate Elementary School 

March 18 2015 

The students from the D’Abate Elementary School are hard at work finishing up their models of the specific habitats they have been studying at Riverside Park. Though it was too snowy to head out to the park today, the students were able to re-visit their park spaces by adding to the dioramas they are creating of each habitat. Each group took the time to share their dioramas as well as their habitat sketches that they have been working on in Art Class. In addition, the students have each taken the time to create an imaginary critter that has specific adaptations to help it survive and thrive in the specific habitat of study. All of the D’Abate 4th grade students made imaginative and innovative creatures that would be ideal for habitats at Riverside Park. Even Mr. Kerman, D’Abate Elementary School’s principal came to see what all the science buzz was about! See some of their creations below:


RISTA Conference Workshop

March 7 2015 

The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership partnered with the Roger Williams Park Zoo to present a workshop at the Rhode Island Science Teachers Association (RISTA) Annual Conference. The workshop, titled “Engaging Students in Outdoor Education” focused on engaging teachers in outdoor activities that align to many of the Next Generation Science Standards. It also addressed the need of blending multi-disciplinary focuses into one activity by encouraging not only science, but creative writing, mathematics, engineering, and art!

Afterschool Program with the Vincent Brown Recreation Center

February 26 2015

Students at the Vincent Brown Recreation Center dove into topic of Fish and Whales this February! Although they both live in the water, fish and whales are very different types of creatures. We talked about how fish are covered in scales and are able to breathe underwater using gills. Fish include not only goldfish we can keep in our homes, but also animals like sharks! We even explored some very strange looking fish, such as the Blobfish, Pufferfish and Barreleye fish!

We then learned about whales, which are mammals that inhabit the ocean. As mammals, they are warm-blooded and need to come to the surface to breathe using their blowhole. They cannot breathe underwater. We also talked about how many whales have a thick layer of blubber to help keep them warm and many have special teeth, called baleen, to help them eat krill from the ocean.

We then got right to work making some fun crafts about fish!


RI Spring Flower and Garden Show – A Garden Ed-venture

February 19 – 22 2015


As an organizational member of the Rhode Island Environmental Education Association, the Partnership for Providence Parks and Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership took part in constructing a garden space at the RI Spring Flower and Garden Show in February of 2015. The Rhode Island Environmental Education Association (RIEEA) is a collaborative network of individuals and organizations committed to environmental education.  They are a federally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization who’s individual members include educators, docents, and administrators from non-profit organizations, schools, universities, and state agencies and organizational membership includes schools, environmental organizations, and community agencies all working to protect, enrich and restore the world around us. RIEEA helped to sponsor the 2015 RI Spring Flower and Garden Show, which was looking for ideas of how to promote the importance of spending time together with family as well as bring in the beauty of nature. It was decided that RIEEA would sponsor and create an interactive garden space for the show. 

IMG_20150218_145602512With the average kid (ages 8 – 18)  spending around 7.5 hours on electronic devices A DAY,  RIEEA wanted to create a garden that allowed for hands-on learning, interactive play-spaces and encouraged adults to play alongside their children. It is all too easy for a child to “plug in” to an electronic device, yet they are missing  out on key elements of being a child (communication, team building, being active, using their imagination, trying things out, figuring things out, making mistakes, etc.). In addition, adults are missing moments to make key connections with their own children when they “plug in” while the child is out playing or engaging in their environment. The RIEEA garden space aimed to show kids how much fun nature and play can be as well as show adults how important and FUN it is to play alongside the kids!
IMG_20150221_094122789_HDRIn addition, RIEEA created a scholarship opportunity for elementary schools to help them create an outdoor classroom in their own schools! Teachers and their classrooms were able to design “their dream outdoor classroom” and make a model that was judged on-site during the Flower Show. The winning school. Charles Fortes Elementary School, won a grant to help fund creating the outdoor space as well as design/development/implementation support from our partners.
Many elements of the garden were made by urban youth in afterschool programs that engage them in outdoor learning. Most of our items, however, came from/were built with recycled materials. Through our many partners, we were able to create a garden that incorporated the following activity spaces:
IMG_20150218_150057509– A Sensory Garden, where visitors were able to touch, smell and taste different herbs that were potted in a big, recycled tire mounds
– A worm bin that both children and adults were able to sink their hands into and observe worms
– A fort building area where families spent quality time constructing forts using big tree branches and sheets
– Fence weaving area where pieces of fabric were woven between fence slats
– Mosaic/collage area where kids made beautiful artwork on framed tables using natural items
– A giant tube embedded in a ‘berm’ with trees and rocks around it that kids and adults climbed through
– A giant chalkboard to draw on
– A Fairy House Building area where families could create miniature homes using natural items, such as acorns, pinecones, sticks, shells, grass and hay
– A human sized Fairy House that people can walk through and play in, created using recycled pallets
IMG_20150220_135254783People of all ages came to our garden space to play throughout the whole weekend! Despite the inclement weather, visitors were eager to spend their day getting a taste of springtime at the RI Convention Center. The RIEEA Garden won 3rd Place overall in the Non-Profit division as well as 3rd Place overall in the People’s Choice Award. Many who visited the garden said this area of play and excitement was just what the show needed!
At the conclusion of the event, all of the plants and garden structures were dismantled to be re-used at various sites; some even going to the recipient of the outdoor classroom grant. Many of the plants were given to donors, but most of the others were utilized at various education sights, including the Roger Williams Park Zoo. The different structures were brought to National Wildlife Refuges and stationed at Audubon refuges for the public to use and enjoy.
The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership was able to not only contribute to building and working the garden space within the RI Convention Center, but also utilized the RI National Wildlife Refuge Complex volunteers to construct the Fairy House used on site.

Winter Hike with the Paul Cuffee School

February 18 2015

photo 1School Vacation Week doesn’t mean a break from learning for students from the Paul Cuffee School! Teachers Stacy Gale and Kelly Barr, both who serve as members of the Education Committee for the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy, teamed up with April Alix from the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership to host a Winter Hike to explore for animal tracks! Though the hike was almost called off due to the 3 feet of snow along the trails, a large group of eager explorers decided to brave the snow and hike up the Hill! We started our hike by talking about the different ways animals walk. We learned that some animals, like a raccoon or a skunk, are pacers, dragging their feet along as they lumber about. Others, like squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits are gallopers- hopping from spot to spot with their back feet sometimes passing their front as they land. Many cats and dogs, both domestic and wild, are diagonal walkers, stepping in their own footprints as they walk through an area while things like minks and badgers are bounders that usually plop all 4 feet in the snow before hopping to the next spot.

This Gait Diagram can be found at http://www.ussartf.org/animal_tracking.htm

This Gait Diagram can be found at http://www.ussartf.org/animal_tracking.htm

IMG_20150218_110133054After practicing all our walks, we started our trek up Neutaconkanut Hill! With all the fresh snow, we didn’t see many tracks on the way up, but we did see signs of animals! We spotted a bird nest just above our heads when starting our hike. Though no one was living in it at the time, we expect to check back in to see some birds using it in spring! We also saw a large tree with many large holes in its bark. The size and pattern of the holes were a sign that it had been pecked by woodpeckers in search of bugs beneath the bark. We also spotted a few squirrel nests along the way! We finally reached the top to see the spectacular view of Providence. While in the meadow, we DID spot some tracks! Though not very clear due to the light snow layered on top, we deduced that they were most likely squirrel tracks as they had the galloper pattern and led straight to a tree! 

025After spending some time playing in the snow up at the top of the Hill, we head back down. Most hiked down, but quite a few Explorers chose to scoot down the Hill in a line! At the bottom, Ms. Gale and Ms. Barr had hot chocolate and donuts to share will all the hikers. A great time was had by all!

To see more photos of the event, visit our dropbox album at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/cvlwo5o3wmoj4q2/AADAZKrpgazmaAUK-Pgh1bjSa?dl=0

D’Abate Elementary School 

February 6 2015

The D’Abate Elementary 4th Grade students in Ray Allsworth’s class have been using a public park, Riverside Park, as an outdoor classroom and area of study throughout the school year. While most know the importance of Environmental Education, these students can attest to the powerful role outdoor education has on their learning and the excitement they have in chances for exploration within the schoolday. Some of these students volunteered to answer a few questions regarding their time spent at the park and research done both in the classroom and at home. Check out this video of these interviews:

Feel free to share this video using the URL: http://youtu.be/QNmn0JuR1O8

Vincent Brown Recreation Center

January 20 2015

The afterschool students at the Vincent Brown Recreation Center can consider themselves raptor experts after spending some quality time learning about some of Rhode Island’s best Birds of Prey. We took the time to explore the difference between Raptors and Songbirds that we see out and about in Providence. Raptors have three key features that make them different from other birds: they have long toenails, called talons, that help them to scoop up and hold onto their prey as they fly throughout the city, a sharp, curved beak to help them tear up their food, and forward-facing eyes with EXCELLENT eyesight to help them target their food while they hunt. Some raptors we see here in Providence include animals like Red-Tailed Hawks, Osprey, and even some Eastern Screech Owls. One of the favorites was the Peregrine Falcon, which is the fastest animal on the planet, and can be found nesting on the Bank of America Building (sometimes referred to as the Superman building) in Downtown Providence. Afterwards, we made some fun crafts related to birds. Some of the students made nests with hawk and owl babies. Others made bird feeders to hang outside. Some chose to learn about different bird species with a word search. We all promised to keep a lookout for Hawks sitting on lamp posts along the sides of the road when we ventured around the city!

Create A Critter for your Habitat at D’Abate Elementary School

January 14 2015

After returning from winter break, the D’Abate Elementary School was back in business working on their habitat projects! This time, the students were given a task to create an imaginative creature that would not only survive, but thrive within their habitat they have been studying. Mr. Allsworth brought in some example critters he made and talked about the characteristics and adaptations his critters had that helped them to survive in the wild. He encouraged the students to think about different animals that currently live in the habitats each student group is studying in order to design their critter to fit in well. With just a few minor instructions, the students were off! At first, the groups seemed to struggle when considering the task at hand. How were they going to make an imaginary critter to fit in their habitat? One group, working on the riverbank habitat, started by considering what animals already live there. They referenced a turtle, a duck and a frog. They then thought about the specific features each animal had that stood out to them. How did these features help the animal to survive? Was it beneficial for their Imaginary Critter to also have similar features? They then started drawing out some ideas. “Maybe our animal can have a shell like a turtle, but with spikes on its back to help protect it as well. And large legs to help it hop away from predators. And let’s make it bright colored as to warn predators to stay away!” Soon, they were gathering supplies and creating a masterpiece! Each student group considered each feature they added onto their creature to make sure it was beneficial to them living in the habitat of study. Some critters were painted colors similar to the surrounding habitat as to blend in. Others had special mouth parts attached to help them catch their prey. All in all, these Imaginative Creatures started taking shape and took on a life of their own! Each student group shared out about their critters. They had ideas about what it ate, how it hunted/gathered, how it kept away predators, what type of shelter it lived in, etc.

Vincent Brown Recreation Center

December 16 2014


The Vincent Brown Recreation Center on Hope Street in Providence is now hosing monthly visits from the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership during their afterschool sessions! This first week, we focused on bugs! The afterschool kids learned all about the difference between an insect and an arachnid. Many participants shared stories about the cool and crazy insects and spiders they’ve found around their homes. IMG_20141216_171757981We are able to take a look at quite a few biofacts as well! Everyone passed around a wasp nest for closer inspection. They were amazed to learn that wasps actually build these nests using wood fibers taken off of fences, logs and cardboard! IMG_20141216_172651204 We then observed both a large, adult cicada as well as the molt from a cicada larvae. We discussed the life cycle of cicadas, which includes the young feasting on the roots of plants deep in the soil until they are big and old enough to move into their next stage of life. They then crawl up high (sometimes up a tree trunk) and burst out of their old skin, showing off a new pair of wings and a sleek, dark body. They are responsible for the loud, buzzing noise many people hear during the summertime. We also observed the difference between a centipede and a millipede by checking out two, live critters that were found outside that day! Who knew insects would be moving around under rocks during winter? We ended our day creating insects out of crafting material. We constructed butterflies, dragonflies and even some made-up bugs using our imagination! A few people even tried making some origami bugs!

Riverside Park Model Build at D’Abate Elementary School

December 10 2014

Ray Allsworth’s class spent the morning working on their models of the different habitats at Riverside Park. The class separated into groups that focused their studies on one of the following habitats: river, riverbank, meadow, or field. Each group took careful notes and collected data about their habitat in order to find a way to best represent their habitat in the form of a model. The models the groups are making will be modified throughout Spring and Ray encouraged the students to start collecting objects from their home that could be used in their projects. The first day, the students brought in cardboard boxes and planned out their vision for their model habitat with their group-mates. They then began to add key components to their model that showed the various plants, animals and abiotic features found within the park. The students working on the riverbank habitat included small models of Bittersweet and Milkweed plants, which they discovered on their most recent visit to the park. The students focusing on the river habitat were sure to include rocks and even used recycled bubblewrap to represent bubbles in the water! Some students used cottonballs to create clouds to hang from the top of their boxes. Below are a few examples of the students projects. The students will keep adding to them until their display day at Save the Bay in April 2015!

Visit from Members of China’s State Forestry Administration: Day 2

December 5 2014


Students from D’Abate Elementary share their experiences at Riverside Park with representatives from China’s State Forestry Administration

The group then took a short drive over to D’Abate Elementary School where the Delegation was able to meet Ray Allsworth, the 4th grade teacher who takes his class to Riverside Park, a local public park, for outdoor learning once a month. The students greeted our visitors from China by saying, “Welcome to Our School” in Mandarin! Ray spoke about his involvement in the Teacher Institute and explained how beneficial that program was to his current work. A few students then stood up and reported out about the things they have noticed and studied in the park. Some students talked about how they have been noticing that plants found in the meadow at Riverside Park are also being found along side-streets and even their schoolyard. They shared their theory that some of the seeds of these plants were carried in the wind throughout the neighborhood and have landed in adjacent areas, causing more plants to grow. Another student discussed the organisms they found in the Woonasquatucket River during the month of October and made some conclusions as to why they did not find similar critters during their November visit. Others discussed the difference in water level of the Woonasquatucket River and shared their thoughts on how the heavier amount of rain may have affected this. Brent Kerman, the Principal of D’Abate Elementary School, thanked the Delegation for visiting the school and expressed how honored he was to have them there.


Kimberly Sullivan from RI Dept. of Environmental Management talks about their involvement in Providence

After the visit at the school, it was off to Riverside Park! April Alix shared some of the history of the site, including its past as a brownfield site that was once overgrown, filled with trash and left to deteriorate. Through the efforts of many partners and a caring community, the area has been transformed into a priceless resource both for the neighborhood, the flora and fauna inhabiting the park and for education. Kimberly Sullivan of RI Dept. of Environmental Management led the group to the fish ladder where she explained some of the work the RI Dept. of Environmental Management has been involved in with the City of Providence and talked about the importance of Fish Ladders in areas where dams prevent fish from completing their natural life cycles. She also shared of her work with the Fish in the Classroom program where schools are able to raise and study native species of fish right in their classroom. They eventually release these fish into local waters, helping to bring back the local fish populations.


Tim Mooney of The Nature Conservancy outlines the work done in helping to restore the meadow at Riverside Park

Tim Mooney of The Nature Conservancy shared his work about the meadow at Riverside Park. Working alongside Rhody Native, Tim was able to help restore the meadow, which had overgrown with invasive plants. The plants were installed in the Spring of 2014 and they are monitoring the area in hopes that the plants will thrive in the upcoming spring. Tim was able to engage the local community through working with the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership during the installation of the plants; making this not only a great effort towards habitat restoration, but also environmental education.


Lou Perrotti of the Roger Williams Park Zoo shares information on the conservation efforts for the New England Cottontail

The Roger Williams Park Zoo was the next stop in the Urban Wildlife Refuge tour as the Delegation met Lou Perrotti, the Conservation Director. He talked about the involvement the zoo has in breeding programs to help with species conservation and education. Lou brought the Delegation in to meet some New England Cottontails, which is an endangered species of rabbits. The zoo helps to breed the rabbits and house them until they are old enough to be brought to an acclimation pen at Ninigret Wildlife Refuge. The acclimation pen is an outdoor pen that is protected by fencing and netting that allows the rabbit species to adapt to its natural environment without the threat of predation. The group was able to meet some of the rabbits in the program and learn about the process in which the rabbits are raised and relocated.


Lou Perrotti introduces the group to one of the captive American Burying Beetles housed at Roger Williams Park Zoo

Lou then brought out an American Burying Beetle and talked about the efforts being made to save the species. American Burying Beetles are a carrion beetle, meaning they need to use dead animals to survive and thrive. The American Burying Beetle needs a specific sized dead animal to lay its eggs in, but with the loss of habitat and extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, the beetle is suffering from a decline in their population. Though the efforts of Lou and his team, this beetle is being reintroduced back into the wild in hopes it will thrive once again in it’s natural habitat.


Cynthia Maynard shares her work with the group about New England Cottontails

After lunch, the group head off to Charlestown to see the other areas where great work is being done. Cynthia Maynard, Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the Southern New England – New York Bight Coastal Program and US Fish and Wildlife Service introduced the group to the acclimation pen used in the New England Cottontail conservation project. Though there were no rabbits currently in the pen, Cynthia explained the process of taking the rabbits from the zoo and relocating them into the pen. One of the questions asked was about predation. Cynthia told the group that the pen was covered in netting and the fencing was buried two feet underground in order to keep the rabbits in and the natural predators to rabbits out. Though the predators cannot get in, they are still visible to the rabbits through the netting and fencing, which allows for them to practice their natural instinct of hiding in the bushes and shrubs when spotted.


The group explores the Kettle Pond Visitor Center

Janis Nepshinsky led a tour around the Visitor Center and discussed the similarities and differences to the Visitor Center at Sachuest. She and Sarah were able to address the public use needs at Kettle Pond and how they differ from the needs at Sachuest Point. The group was also able to meet some of the volunteers who dedicate their time to making the Visitor Center a welcoming and educational area. Kim Sullivan from RI Dept. of Environmental Management spent some time outlining the work they are involved in state-wide. She talked about the many parks they manage on a state-level and the fishing programs geared toward engaging both adults and youth. Many of the youth living in the state are not able to try fishing on their own time with their families, so RI Dept. of Environmental Management is able to offer public programs that encourage families to learn! One example includes a fly fishing program where the participants learn to make their own flies and use them out on the water.


Our group shot at the top of the viewing platform at Kettle Pond Visitor Center

Lastly, our group took a hike up to the scenic overlook at Kettle Pond. From the top, they were able to look across Narragansett Bay and see Block Island in the distance! Sarah and Charlie talked about the efforts to make the building more eco-friendly by installing solar panels and utilizing the geothermals to heat the building as well as reuse materials when constructing new structures. For example, the parking lot at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center was constructed from old concrete from the unused airstrips at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge. This led to a discussion about the effects of climate change on our local habitats and the changes that have already occurred over the past few years. The group stopped for a quick picture and reflected on all the work that was highlighted throughout the two-day tour.

Visit from Members of China’s State Forestry Administration: Day 1

December 4 2014

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership were honored to host tours of our National and Urban Wildlife Refuges for members of China’s State Forestry Administration from Beijing, China. On Thursday, the Delegation from China had the chance to tour Sachuest Wildlife Refuge in Middletown, RI. After welcoming our visitors to the site and exploring a map detailing the different parts of Rhode Island, the group started a tour along the trails at the refuge.


Sarah Griffith discusses the focus on public use and community involvement in the work being done by the US Fish and Wildlife Service

While on the tour, Sarah Griffith, pointed out the interpretive panels along the trails and highlighted how many of the visitors at Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge are international or speak English as a second language. Using the interpretive signs in multiple languages, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and RI National Wildlife Refuge Complex are still able to share their message with anyone who visits Sachuest. This is of high importance for refuge staff and partners as there is an understanding of how vital it is to reach out and include all members of the local community and engage them in interacting with what is important to them. She also stressed that one of their greatest resources in finding out the needs of the public and visitors to the site are the volunteers who dedicate their time and expertise to ensuring Sachuest is a great place for all who visit. Many volunteers have had ties to the refuges longer than most staff members and, therefore, provide vital information on the needs for each individual site. Sarah also discussed the public use of Sachuest Wildlife Refuge, which has a very high visitation rate of over 200,000 visitors annually. With so many visitors, they are always looking for new ways to engage the public. One example of fulfilling the needs of the public can be demonstrated through the use of Sachuest as a popular fishing site.  With refuges traditionally closing at sunset, Sachuest is kept open for a night-time fishing program to accommodate this traditional and cultural use. Another activity frequently seen at Sachuest Point is photography, which is trending nationally. Volunteers were able to build a photography blind and have it located in an area previously inaccessible to the public, again focusing on the theme of providing new opportunities that align with the preferred public use. Price Neck Overlook is another new opportunity opened to the public after being closed 6 months from Hurricane Sandy. Not only is it named for the Price Neck Rock Formation that was once part of Africa during Pangea, but it also provides an excellent vantage point to view Island Rocks, the Sakonnet River and the Atlantic Ocean – which is where the name Sachuest came from meaning “the point where two bodies of water meet”. The group then spoke with Doug  about law enforcement at the National Wildlife Refuges. He addressed many of the common problems seen on National Wildlife Refuges, especially dog walking, harassment of wildlife, not staying on trails, poaching, and during fishing season with limit violations. He explained some of the methods used to help decrease the number of violations, which include education, outreach, and signage. He shared an example by talking about the most recent measures taken to proactively help protect the animals and visitors in anticipation of increased visitation due to Snowy Owls. Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge now has increased signage, accessible education material to be handed out to visitors, increased communication with local media outlets, programs on bird watching and photography ethics and new fencing was installed in areas where there were high amounts of violations last winter. The group then visited the landfill cap where Sarah addressed volunteerism, how they recruit volunteers (ie: retired individuals, students) and the types of projects the volunteers assist with, which include, but are not limited to work with plover monitoring, building photo blinds, staffing the visitor centers, trail maintenance, and environmental education programs.


April Alix and Janis Nepshinsky present about the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership

Upon returning from the tour, April Alix and Janis Nepshinsky gave a presentation about the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. Janis addressed the origins of the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships nationwide and discussed the reasons behind its implementation in Providence. April was able to highlight some of the current projects being done in the Providence public parks  in regards to improved signage and trail maintenance, as well as habitat restoration. She also shared about her involvement in schools, including information about the Teacher Institute as well as her work in engaging teachers and their students in using the public parks as outdoor classrooms.

Teacher Institute at Spaziano Elementary

November 26 2014

IMG_0516 (1)Andrea Stein, Manager of School Programs, and Emily George, School Programs Instructor, from the Roger Williams Park Zoo brought some friends out to meet the students from Spaziano Elementary for a free in-school education program granted through their school’s participation in the Teacher Institute. Through their Diversity of Life program, the students learned all about carnivores, omnivores, herbivores as well as producers, consumers and decomposers! Emily showed an example of different animals that serve different roles in a food web and challenged students to consider the consequences if one or more of the example animals became extinct. Each student then had a chance to explore an organism and decide whether they thought that animal was a producer, primary consumer, secondary consumer, tertiary consumer or decomposer. The students then had a fantastic opportunity to meet three education animals and discuss what role they played in their own ecosystems. The first was a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach, which the students had the opportunity to touch! The cockroach fills the roll of a decomposer, which helps to break down all the dead plants and animals within an area. They also learned that the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach got its name from its special adaptation where it forces air out of spiracles along the side of it’s body, which makes a hissing noise. This noise would potentially scare off predators who may try to eat it! The second animal the students met was a Virginia Opossum. Virginia Opossums are omnivores as they will snack on just about anything they can get their hands on in their natural habitat. Many people see opossums rifling through their garbage cans in the city! Opossums are the only marsupial (which means they carry their babies in a pouch after they are born) native to the North America. IMG_0520 (1)The final animal the students met was a domestic rabbit named Timski. Although a domestic rabbit, Timski helped the students learn about the roles that wild rabbits play in our native ecosystem. They are herbivores and also an important food source for many secondary and tertiary consumers. They also learned about the story of the New England Cottontail Rabbit; which is a native endangered rabbit that the participants in the Teacher Institute learned all about and even visited the acclimation pen where young rabbits learn how to survive in their native habitat before relocating them to their permanent home. The students learned about some of the things the zoo is doing to help these rabbits because they are an important part of our ecosystem. The visit from the Roger Williams Park Zoo was a chance for the students to learn through hands-on activities and meet animals up-close that they would, otherwise, not have had the chance to do!

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary Kindergarten Class Visits Fargnoli Park

November 20 2014 


The Kindergarten class has been working hard learning about what animals do during winter. Today, the students went on a hike to look for different pictures of animals and used their observation skills to decide whether that animal hibernated, migrated or grew a furry coat to stay warm all winter long! The students found images of a bear, hummingbird, groundhog, bat, rabbit, squirrel, mouse, and monarch butterfly! We carefully studied the animals to decide what their physical characteristics told us about what they would do during wintertime. We then went back into the classroom where the students drew an example of an animal that hibernated, migrated or grew a furry coat and stayed all winter long!

Outdoor Classroom Day with D’Abate Elementary School

November 19 2014

IMG_20141119_095609034Room 202 was back at Riverside Park this past week to continue their studies of urban habitats. In class, the students have been assessing the data taken on their previous visit to the park and formed focus groups that would study each habitat individually. Andrea Stein met up with our class and each group headed toward their respective habitat of study. The students studying the meadow spent time identifying the different grass and shrub species that were inhabiting the area, some of which was planted during the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership Designation Event in May. The students also compared the current state of the meadow to the previous visit in October, when we were able to capture crickets, grasshoppers and spiders. Today, there were no critters to catch, but they attributed that to the drop in temperature over the past month. IMG_20141119_102355702_HDRThe students studying the field used field nets to swipe in the field in hopes of catching some smaller animals hiding in the grass. They didn’t catch many animals, but they also identified some of the biotic and abiotic factors that were in the area.  The students studying the river used aquatic nets to scoop into the water in hopes of finding fish or crayfish as they did in their last visit to the park. Though they didn’t find any animals, they pulled up many types of aquatic plants they did not notice last time. They also noticed that the water levels were dramatically different over the past month and attributed this to the amount of rain that fell. IMG_20141119_104726824The students studying the riverbank spent most of their time identifying plants that grew just on the edge of the river. They noticed a fair amount of bittersweet growing along many of the trees. Bittersweet is an invasive species that will grow up along a host plant and tends to choke the plant out of essential resources. They also noted the fuzzy presence of Milkweed in the area! It took some time to find the source of all the fluffy seeds that were being carried all over the park in the wind, but when they did, they observed the unique way this plant gets its seeds from one spot to another. Back in the classroom, the groups pooled their notes and compared the different observations they noticed and made inferences about what these observations told them.

Teacher Institute at George R. West Elementary 

November 18 2014


Andrea Stein, Manager of School Programs, from the Roger Williams Park Zoo brought some friends out to meet the students from George R. West Elementary for a free in-school education program granted through their school’s participation in the Teacher Institute. Through their Diversity of Life program, the students learned all about carnivores, omnivores, herbivores as well as producers, consumers and decomposers! Andrea showed an example of different animals that serve different roles in a food web and challenged students to consider the consequences if one or more of the example animals became extinct. Each student then had a chance to explore an organism and decide whether they thought that animal was a producer, primary consumer, secondary consumer, tertiary consumer or decomposer. The students then had a fantastic opportunity to meet three education animals and discuss what role they played in their own ecosystems. The first was an African Millipede, which the students had the opportunity to touch! The millipede fills the roll of a decomposer, which helps to break down all the dead plants and animals within an area. They also learned the difference between a millipede and a centipede and how neither are truly insects! The second animal the students met was a box turtle. Box Turtles are omnivores as they will snack on leafy greens as well as tasty worms when out in their natural habitat. The Box Turtle got its name for the shell attached to its body, which has the capability of closing up completely so its head, legs, and even its tail are safely tucked away inside. The students were able to touch the Box Turtle and feel it’s rough, scaly skin and shell. The final animal Andrea brought from the Zoo was a beautiful Red Tailed Hawk. Hawks fill the Tertiary Consumer niche as they are fierce carnivores. Using their very powerful feet and talons, they hunt and scoop up their prey, which includes things like mice, rats, small birds, rabbits, squirrels and even a frog if they can find one! The visit from the Roger Williams Park Zoo was a chance for the students to learn through hands-on activities and meet animals up-close that they would, otherwise, not have had the chance to do!

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary 2nd Grade Class Visits Fargnoli Park

November 13 2014

Ms. Haggerty’s 2nd Grade class spent the afternoon focusing on Weather and The Water Cycle as well as what the change in seasons will bring to our park. The students have been studying weather in school and chose to put their knowledge to the test by making some predictions outdoors. IMG_20141113_133731668To start the afternoon, the students learned about the key parts of the water cycle by singing a fun song! The song goes to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain” and goes like this: “The water goes through a cycle. Yes, it does! The water goes through a cycle. Yes, it does! It goes up as evaporation, Forms clouds as condensation, And comes down as precipitation. Yes, it does!” The students all took turns singing the song so we could remember all the parts of the Water Cycle! We then got to work on exploring the water cycle by playing a game that helped us explore the life of a water droplet. Each group of students pretended they were a droplet of water and were tasked with recording their journey as they played the game. The group members would be assigned to start at one of eight sites : Animal, Plant, Lake, River, Glacier, Ocean, Soil, and Clouds. The group would then roll a special cube that let them know what happened to their water droplet. For example, students that start at a cloud may roll their cube to find that the cloud they were in rained over the ocean and dropped their water droplet into the sea. Depending on what they rolled on their cube, they would proceed to find their next station and discover the next step in their personal water cycle. IMG_20141113_135338257The students then shared out their story as a water droplet. They were sure to include the words evaporation, condensation and precipitation when explaining what their specific water cycle entailed. Some students even drew diagrams and added a bit of imagination to their cycles! Overall, we found that most of our groups spent much of their time in the Ocean. We discussed why that would be, touching upon how many water droplets get caught in the vast ocean with little chance of evaporating out or being utilized by a plant or animal. Students also found that, when they were at the Glacier station, they usually wound up being ‘stuck’ at the station for a few rounds before continuing to another station of their water cycle. We discussed that water frozen in large glaciers are less likely to melt or evaporate, similar to the water droplets of the ocean. We then took some time to explore different sections of the park. Students worked in their groups to take notes about the park using their observation skills. What types of things are living in their spot? What non-living things exist there? What predictions do they make about changes to their spot come wintertime? What things will stay the same? How will the weather affect their spot? The students studied their areas and recorded their data and predictions. We will revisit these same areas and compare our observations taken today to see what has changed over time. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) website provides The Water Cycle Activity with downloadable supplies needed at http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/watercyclegame 

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary Kindergarten Class Visits Fargnoli Park

November 12 2014

Today, the Kindergarten Class learned all about what animals do in winter! We walked to Fargnoli Park to see if we could find any animals that were getting ready for winter. The first animal we talked about was a Canada Goose. An animal like the Canada Goose migrates south for the winter. The students said they see lots of geese in ponds and parks during the summer. We talked about how many of these animals will fly great distances to find warmer weather and more food!


Students spread birdseed along the fences and under trees for local animals

We then talked about an animal that hibernates during the winter – bees! Though many die before the start of winter, some bees and wasps will hibernate through the cold winter months and wake up as the weather gets warmer. Bees and wasps that hibernate will find a protected area to hide and ‘sleep’ all winter long. We talked about the importance of bees and how they help our environment. Our last animal we discussed was a squirrel! Instead of moving away or sleeping through the winter, squirrels stay active and awake all winter long! They grow a big, thick coat and make a cozy nest in a tree, but they spend their winters toughing out the cold weather. Squirrels will prepare for winter by gathering food ahead of time – especially acorns! We walked over to our Oak Tree to observe the squirrel nest all the way at the top! The squirrel makes its nest out of leaves and sticks and even some pieces of trash, like newspaper. We decided to help out our neighborhood animal friends who have to stay active all winter by spreading some bird seed around the park. Squirrels will also eat bird seed, so we hoped they could enjoy the snack alongside the house sparrows and chickadees that frequent the park.

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary Kindergarten Class Visits Fargnoli Park

November 5 2014

Ms. Pinksaw’s Kindergarten class was back at Fargnoli Park again this week exploring leaves! IMG_20141105_144243229[1]Our first leaf we found was a pine needle. The students made observations about the needles, describing them as long, skinny, green and brown, pointy and stuck together in bundles. Many of the students said their pine needles had a distinct smell. We located the tree that dropped these leaves and explored the area to find out what seeds the tree spreads. We discovered large pinecones all along the bases of the trees. When we explored the pinecones, the students noted the shape, size, and patterns. We talked about how it would be difficult for an animal to eat a pinecone and, therefore, it has great protection from animals. Our second leaf we found was that of a Maple Tree! The students noted that the leaves were large, wide, yellow and had points on the end. We counted the points and found that this Maple Tree had five points on each leaf. Some of the leaves had spots on them while others were all yellow. When we found the Maple Tree, we discovered it also dropped seeds, but these seeds were very special. The students noticed that the Maple Tree seeds looked like wings! We all took turns dropping the seeds to see how they travel from the tree by spiraling downward. IMG_20141105_151334284[1]Our last leaf we explored was that of an Oak Tree. Oak leaves were long, skinny and had many points. These leaves were all brown and very crunchy. Each student then looked for the seeds of an oak tree and we discovered acorns! At the park, we also found a squirrel nest in the oak tree. We discussed how some Oak Trees are planted by squirrels who bury acorns to store for later and then forget where they buried them! The forgotten acorns then grown into beautiful oak trees! Back in the classroom, we took our samples of each set of leaves and wrote some sentences about them. Each student was able to glue their leaf examples onto their papers to keep a record of the types of leaves and trees we saw in the park.

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary 2nd Grade Class Visits Fargnoli Park

October 30 2014

Ms. Haggerty’s 2nd Grade Class suited up with clipboards and magnifying lenses to explore Fargnoli Park today. The theme was ‘Observation’ where the students prepared to practice using their senses to observe the area around them. trail When they arrived, the students were asked to explore the ‘un-natural trail’ set up for them. This trail was designated by a starting marker and and ending marker and the students were told that there were many un-natural items hidden along the trail. Some were very obvious, such as a bright, red ball sitting right in the middle of the path. Others were harder to find, such as a piece of green felt on a beanstalk, a small glass bead near some rocks, and a black piece of paper taped in the shadow of a tree. The students walked silently through the un-natural trail and wrote down as many objects as they could see along the way. Once all students had hiked through the un-natural trail, we discussed the many objects that were found. Unnatural TrailThis led to a discussion of both observation techniques and camouflage. We talked about how to be a good scientists while studying outside. You cannot just look at nature at eye level. You must make sure to look under, over, around and between to see things that may be hidden from view. We also talked about the importance of quiet as its harder to observe things when loud noises are scaring animals off. We then talked about the difference between animals that show warning colors and don’t always hide (such as the red ball which was brightly colored and very easy to spot along our trail) in comparison to animals that have more natural colors to help camouflage, or blend in, with their surroundings (such as the green felt that was hidden against a green leaf).   leaf inspection 2We then decided to focus on learning details while observing nature. Each student was asked to find a maple leaf in the park. They were then asked to study their maple leaves and look for details along the leaf that are unique and unlike any other maple leaf in the park. Many students chose to write out descriptive sentences about their leaf, noting its size, shape, markings, colors, and blemishes. Other students chose to draw their leaf, labeling all the parts that show the uniqueness of their leaves. When they felt they had taken enough notes about their leaves, we put 5 students leaves in a bag, shook them up, and dumped them out – asking each student to find their own leaf in the pile of 5. find leafWe did this for each group of five students. Each student was able to find their leaf fairly easily using their notes. We then, put ALL the leaves of the entire class, including Ms. Haggerty’s, into a big bag, shook them up, and had the kids find their leaves from the entire class’ pile. This was much harder! We discussed the importance of taking good notes and making detailed observations. Students who wrote more general notes about their leaves had a harder time distinguishing their leaves from their classmates’ leaves. In our final activity, the students were challenged to observe not with their eyes, but with their sense of touch and smell. Each group of students was given a canister containing a seed that could be found in the park. The students were encouraged to put their hand in the canister and try to get an idea of what their seed looked like by using their sense of touch. After each student in the group had a chance to feel their specific seed, they were asked to explore the park to see if they could find a similar seed based on what they felt. Each group was successful in finding their seed! leaf decription seed description When asked how they were able to find their seed even though they never saw it in the canister, the students used descriptive words to determine characteristics of their seed. The ones with the maple seed said it felt “like a wing followed by a stem”. Those with the larger pinecones said theirs was “hard, pokey and almost took up their whole hand”. The students with the small pinecones said theirs felt “long and bumpy, and when you smelled your hand after touching the seed, it smelled like Christmas trees”. The students with the acorn described their seed as “small, circular and hard.” When looking for their seeds in the park, they picked up different seeds to see how they smelled or felt before determining their seed. Each student was successful!  We had a great day learning how to observe and will be using these same techniques when we visit the park in two weeks!

Robert F. Kennedy Elementary Kindergarten Class Visits Fargnoli Park

October 24 2014


The Kindergarten class of Robert F. Kennedy Elementary School walked to their local, neighborhood park to do some observation on flowers! In school, the students have been learning all about the parts of the flower as well as how flower seeds help to spread more flowers throughout the park. When they first arrived, the students looked at the beautiful tree trunk that was left behind when a tree had died. They talked about all the ways a tree trunk and tree stump can be a home for animals in nature as well as a fun place to climb on or stand on! 10506716_842618545783417_4869747405736442519_oWe then took some time to observe flowers in the park. We found some marigold flowers and the purple flowers of a hosta plant. The students pointed out the differences in the two flowers: some had long stems and skinny flowers and others had short stems and wide flowers. We took some of these flower samples back to the school to take a closer look. The students then made a venn diagram comparing two of the many flowers we found on our walk.

D’Abate Elementary School Visits Ninigret Wildlife Refuge

October 21 2014


We had some special visitors down in Charlestown, RI today. Ray Allsworth brought his 4th grade class on a special field trip to Ninigret Wildlife Refuge for a day of exploration! Ray, a Teacher Institute participant, and his class are focusing on habitats, water quality and how the plants and animals inhabiting areas can effect the balance of health within an ecosystem. Neil Anthes of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, led the group on a hike where he talked about the history of the land as well as showed us how to identify some tree species! The students became experts on Red Oaks and White Pines by the end of the tour! He led us up to a beautiful overlook where the students had a chance to see far out into Narragansett Bay and even the outline of Block Island! KP4   Our group then head toward an area of the refuge that bordered a vernal pool where the students were able to explore transects! Each group of 4 students explored a 1 x 1 meter transect area, assessing for biodiversity. They found all kinds of things including galls, salamanders, mushrooms, ants, sow bugs and beetles. Kimberly Sullivan of the RI Department of Environmental Management and Andrea Stein of the Roger Williams Park Zoo helped the students identify these specimens and talked about their importance to the ecosystem.   KP7 KP6 After lunch, we all head out to East Beach to visit a Salt Pond. When we showed up, we were greeted by a fish that a fisherman had gutted and left on the beach. What a great teaching opportunity! Neil was able to show the students the skeleton of the fish as well as the gills. We then tossed it back in and watched as lots of smaller fish and crabs came up to enjoy a tasty snack along the shore. Kimberly Sullivan showed the students a seining net and led us in a seining activity. The students were able to touch and learn about a variety of animals and plants, including shrimp, spider crabs, blue crabs, sea lettuce, and razor clams.  The students then head back to Providence after a great day spent being young scientists!

Outdoor Classroom Day with Paul Cuffee School

October 15 2014


The Paul Cuffee School’s entire 4th Grade Class took a trip to Neutaconkanut Hill for the first time this year. We started our adventure by selecting a special spot that each student will monitor throughout the year. Each student selected a spot up in the meadow that they planned to return to an analyze from season to season. We then took a hike through the trails on the Hill where we spotted many plants and animals that were preparing for the upcoming winter! Many of the squirrels were busy burying their food for storage, birds stopping over on their way south for migration, trees in the process of losing their leaves. 10624790_835833683128570_2817641616305979613_n   We visited the site of the two Cameros and talked about the history of Neutaconkanut Hill and how the changes have come about due to community involvement. We also talked about the progression of disintegration of these cars was due to weathering by nature itself! The Paul Cuffee students will be back again in winter to analyze their spots they collected data from and discover more treasures the park has to offer.

Outdoor Classroom Day with D’Abate Elementary School

October 15 2014


Ray Allsworth’s 4th grade class took their first field trip to Riverside Park to collect data about the different habitats in the park. Ray Allsworth was one of our Teacher Institute participants who has scheduled monthly visits to Riverside Park with his class. We walked to Riverside Park from D’Abate Elementary School, which is only 0.3 miles away! When we arrived, Ray led the class in some observation activities that helped them to describe and assess the different habitats on site. We started by looking at the field, where we spotted some cabbage white butterflies and ground beetles! The lack of trees and large amount of short grass makes it hard for larger animals to find shelter or cover from predators, so we took note on the smaller critters and plants we spotted. 1422402_835773699801235_8862065677485689174_nOn our way to the meadow, we spotted found some large winterberry bushes and areas where students planted switchgrass during our Designation Event in May. We also kept our eye out for bittersweet, as it is an invasive species in the area that tends to choke out other native plants. We caught a few crickets, grasshoppers and even a field spider while in the meadow! 10671232_835773766467895_3226878880989401292_n       Our next stop was at the fish ladder, where the students had a chance to see how the fish ladder operates. Ray discussed the fish ladders purpose prior to our trip, so the students spent some time finding the different parts that allow the fish to head up river! We dipped a net into the river and caught a crayfish, snail and even a small fish! Ray brought up the importance of indicator species and how its critical for water sources to have a good water quality in order to support all the plants and animals around in the area. 10606112_835773739801231_895643071742778671_n               We then spent some time analyzing all our species and identifying some trees along the riverbank. We practiced using binoculars and found a turtle sunning itself on a tree in the middle of the river! Ray led the class in a soil sampling using a soil corer. We compared the soil close to the river bank with the soil in the middle of the field. Many of the students held the dirt in their hands and found it was quite sandy! Overall, the students made great observations and took careful notes on what types of animals we found in the various habitats. This 4th grade class will be back on November 19th to explore some more!

Outdoor Classroom Day with Spaziano Elementary School

October 14 2014

10349899_835228796522392_8331998172768790656_nTeresa Sangermano’s 4th grade class took their first trip to Neutaconkanut Hill to do some outdoor exploration and data collection in the field! Teresa was one of our Teacher Institute participants who plans to share the outdoors with her class by providing a series of field trips to Neutaconkanut Hill throughout the year. We hiked from the school to Neutaconkanut Hill, where we talked about the history of the park and discussed the many things the students can do there throughout the year. We started our trek through the park with a hike, finding galls, mushrooms, sassafras trees and even a woolly bear caterpillar along the way! 10600663_835228916522380_8335452827402702471_nWhen we reached the top, the students participated in a ’12 inch hike’ using a foot-long piece of ribbon, a spoon and a magnifying lens. The students were encouraged to place the ribbon anywhere in the field and explore all the living and non-living things that surrounded it. Some students found that there were many different types of grass and clover along their ribbon. Others found ants and crickets. One student even found a few varieties of seeds! 10698644_835228939855711_6461160288502570808_nEach student then took some time to walk through the tall grass wearing big socks over their shoes! While exploring the types of plants and animals living in the tall grass, we hoped the socks would help to collect seeds along the way. Quite a few students found seeds that stuck to their socks like Velcro. We discussed how this is an important adaptation that helps seeds spread throughout the meadow by sticking to animals fur as they walk by, but dropping off as the animal moved around. One of the students, Oscar, shared some information about squirrels, explaining how squirrels bury acorns in the ground to store for winter. The problem is, sometimes, they forget where they burred them! Those seeds that get buried, but forgotten, grow into oak trees over time. He told us that squirrels are great planters that help our environment grow trees. We wrapped up the day by having each student choose a special tree that they will monitor throughout the seasons. Each student chose a tree and spent some time writing down the characteristics and details of the tree as well as sketching a picture to know what the tree looks like and it’s location. Everyone had a great day and couldn’t wait to share their adventure with fellow students at school and with their families.

Landtrust Rally Conference

September 17 and 20

This year’s Landtrust Rally Conference was held in the Convention Center in downtown Providence and what a better way to showcase all that is being done on our Urban Wildlife Refuges than a Field Trip tour to the parks? On Wednesday, the Partnership for Providence Parks hosted a field trip for conference participants that explored 3 of our Urban Wildlife Refuges throughout the day. Our field trip participants loaded onto the Eco-Bus alongside Julian Rodriguez-Drix of the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island and head off to Blackstone Park for a tour! We learned all about the habitat restoration programs being implemented at the park and even enjoyed a great bird hike led by Ocean State Birding Club’s Vice President, Dan Berard.

Dan Berard leads our group in a bird hike at Blackstone Park

Dan Berard leads our group in a bird hike at Blackstone Park

We then stopped over at Riverside Park where Lisa Aurecchia and Amanda Blevins of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council led our tour group on a great bikeride along the Greenway Bike Path!

Rolling out! Heading down the Greenway Bike Path at Riverside Park!

Rolling out! Heading down the Greenway Bike Path at Riverside Park!

We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Botanical Center in Roger Williams Park where Bob McMahon, our Superintendent of the Providence Parks and Recreation Department, gave a wonderful talk on the history of the Providence Parks.

Bob McMahon talks to our group at the Botanical Center

Bob McMahon talks to our group at the Botanical Center

We ended our day with a fantastic hike at Neutaconkanut Hill, led by Helen Tijader, that outlined the history of the Native Americans that inhabited the area as well as the life of Roger Williams who founded our state.

Helen shows the group one of the great overlooks at Neutaconkanut Hill

Helen shows the group one of the great overlooks at Neutaconkanut Hill

On Saturday, Janis Nepshinsky of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and April Alix, the Conservation Program Coordinator of the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, led a workshop on the history of the Partnership project; outlining the stages of development and offering advice to those who attended on forming their own Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnerships. To view the powerpoint presented, click on our link: Landtrust Rally – AA and JN. 20140920_133715

April Presents

Teacher Institute Field Trip Day!

August 23 2014


The zoomobile took a special trip to Charlestown, RI today with our participants of the Teacher Institute 2014! Sarah Griffith of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Kimberly Sullivan, RI Dept. of Environmental Management, led our group on a fantastic tour of the National Wildlife Refuges. We started our adventure at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center where we took a tour of the facility and walked some of the trails. The overlook into the bay was breathtaking and Sarah told us all about the history of the land we were standing on. While inside, we had the opportunity to try out a fun scavenger hunt which helped us explore dioramas of an upland forest, barrier beaches, coastal shrublands, salt ponds, saltmarshes, and rocky shores. All these habitats are found on National Wildlife Refuges and can be explored with their classes.   IMG_20140823_112521307We then explored vernal pools where we caught tadpoles, salamander babies, water scorpions, and backswimmers. We talked about the importance of vernal pools as well as how difficult it is for animals to live in one. Vernal pools are extremely important to our environment as they provide a wonderful “nursery” for many of our amphibians that need water to complete the first portion of their life cycle. Vernal pools, due to their seasonal nature, tend to be devoid of fish, which helps increase the chance of survival for the young amphibians that inhabit them.   IMG_20140823_132239952We then had a rare opportunity to visit the acclimation pen for the New England Cottontail. The New England Cottontail rabbit is a threatened species that was once abundant in the New England region. Out-competed by a non-native species of rabbit, the Eastern Cottontail, the New England Cottontail populations declined rapidly. Biologists from the New England Cottontail Captive Breeding Working Group have partnered with the Roger Williams Park Zoo, which has provided space and expertise in raising captive New England Cottontail Rabbits, which are bred on-site. When old enough, these offspring are placed in an acclimation pen and are monitored using collars and cameras. This pen is an outdoor area surrounded by mesh screen and fencing. The pen itself is filled with lots of native plants and is subjected to all the elements as to familiarize these new rabbits with the environment they will be experiencing when they are moved to their permanent home. This pen allows them the rabbits to test out the area without worrying about predation until they are old enough to be released on Nantucket Island. Cynthia Maynard, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist who works with the Southern New England – New York Bight Coastal Program and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, took us on a tour of the pen and explained alot about the project to our teachers. To read more about the program, check out the Zoo’s write up at https://rwpzoo.org/new-england-cottontail-rabbit and Cyndi Maynard’s write up at http://www.nbep.org/journals/fall_2012/Cottontail.pdf    IMG_20140823_143417272IMG_20140823_144651107Finally, we finished up our day with a great activity that had us strapped up in waders and out there getting our hands dirty! Our teachers tried their hands at seine netting, which helps to capture lots of plants and animals that hide right along the shore! We took the seine net out and caught quite a few critters! Among them were a young sea robin, silversides, a green crab, a blue crab, a spider crab and even some delicious sea lettuce! Lots of us tried out the sea lettuce, which we agreed wasn’t the greatest of snacks, but wasn’t half bad! Overall, it was a great experience and the teachers cannot wait to bring their classes out! A huge ‘thank you’ goes out to Kim Sullivan, Sarah Griffith, and Cyndi Maynard who made our fabulous day possible. 

Spiders and Insects at Peace and Plenty Park

August 12 2014

In our final summer installment of Environmental Education at Peace and Plenty Park, we learned about bugs! A very fun group of park visitors spent the afternoon exploring the differences between spiders and insects as well as did a fun craft. We learned that insects have 6 legs, 3 body parts and two antenna. Spiders, are part of a group called Arachnids. They are different from insects because they have 8 legs, 2 body parts and no antenna.

Difference in a Honey Bees and Wasps - image taken from here

Difference in a Honey Bees and Wasps – image taken from here

We learned about a few different insects around the park, including the Yellow jackets that like to try to sit on our sandwiches. Although Yellow jackets LOOK like bees, they are actually a type of wasp. Unlike bees, Yellow jackets are carnivores, which means they like to eat meat, including other bugs that try to bother our gardens. Bees do not eat meat. They survive off of nectar from flowers, which helps our environment for they help move pollen from plant to plant as they look for nectar to feed on. Yellow jackets are known to be quite aggressive, so we learned how to carefully avoid them while eating lunch. To learn more about the difference in a wasp and a bee, check out this website:  http://www.gardeners.com/how-to/yellow-jackets/7700.html

dream catcher 1

Native American Dream Catcher example – image taken from here

When we made dream catchers, we decided to rely on the best web-weavers out there: spiders! Spiders play a very important role in nature as it is their job to hunt and catch lots of insects that we don’t enjoy having buzz around our heads. A spider will catch those pesky bugs in their webs and gobble them up so they do not bother us! In addition, most spiders are nocturnal, constructing intricate webs during the night in hopes to catch their prey. Their webs are very transparent, making it hard for a fly or a wasp to see it before getting caught in the strands! In a way, they are the dream catchers of nature, except they are the pesky bug catchers instead!


One park patron weaves her Spider Dream Catcher Web

To make our spider dream catchers, we cut the centers out of paper plates and used a hole punch to put holes all along the outside. We then wove some yarn in and out of all the holes to make strands that could catch our bad dreams. We added some beads to look like little pesky bugs that were caught up in the strands. After tying off our yarn, we added the most important part: a spider! Check out some of the dream catchers that we made!           IMG_20140812_104319567IMG_20140812_110424275

A Bat Walk at Blackstone Park

August 9 2014


Jen talks to the crowd about bats in Rhode Island

The Blackstone Park Conservancy held a beautiful Moon Rise Over the Seekonk River event where a large crowd gathered to listen to the live music, enjoy kids crafts and take in the sights of the moon through a variety of telescopes. The Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership hosted a Bat Walk with Jen Klein, the Education Director for the Museum Institute for Teaching Science. In her past, she worked at the Organization for Bat Conservation at Cranbrook Institute of Science in Michigan and agreed to share some of her bat knowledge with the group. Jen told us that bats are mammals who get a bad rap for, well, just being bats! They are Earth’s ONLY flying mammal and are an important part of our ecosystem. Bats can be found on every continent, except for Antarctica, and though there are over 1000 bat species worldwide, there are only 45 species that inhabit the United States. Among those, only 8 types of bats call Rhode Island home part or most of the year.


One of our Bat Hike participants shows off the Bat Detector we used!

Bats have a special adaptation that allows them to hunt for their food using a method called Echolocation. This is done by emitting small, noises from their nose and mouth that travel forward and bounce back to the bat when it hits an object ahead of them. The bat is able to then sense the size, shape, texture and distance away that object is. This helps them to catch food and avoid obstacles while flying at them. Jen had a special apparatus that would detect these small noises and movements among the trees and would make a sound to signal that there were bats around! We each had a turn holding onto the machine in hopes of hearing some bats moving. Jen explained that bats eat a variety of things in the wild. All the bats here in Rhode Island feed on insects, such as beetles, moths, flies, flying ants, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and termites. This is great for humans as bats help to keep the insect populations down! Finally, Jen took some time to dispell some myths about bats. Have you ever heard any of the following un-true myths about bats? “All bats have rabies” “Bats will get stuck into your hair” “Bats will suck your blood” “Bats are rodents, like mice and rats” “Bats are blind” All of these things are untrue! Some bats will carry the rabies sickness on them, but it is not true that ALL bats have rabies. This is the same for all wild animals as many of them have the potential to carry rabies. Bats do NOT get stuck or fly into people’s hair! Bats are known to swoop around during the night to catch bugs and it’s possible that this rumor surfaced because bats will eat the bugs that are flying near people. Why may there be bugs circulating around someone’s head? Many people use hair products in their hair, such as smelly hairsprays, gels or shampoos. This attracts bugs which, in turn, attracts bats. The bats, however, do not fly into people’s hair. There is only one type of bat that drinks blood and that is a Vampire Bat. They also get a bad rap for just being bats! They make a VERY small cut on an animal, such as a pig or cow, and drink a small amount of blood before leaving the animal again. This does not hurt the pig or cow; in fact, they hardly ever notice at all! Bats are part of the scientific family Chiroptera, which means “hand wing”. They are not a part of the rodent family. Lastly, as mentioned before, bats use echolocation to help guide them through the air to catch food, but they also have eyes that can see! Bats are not blind! Though we never saw any bats that night, we now know where to look for them and hope to visit again and see some bats swooping over York Pond on a quiet night! To download the brochure from the event, including information about Bat Houses and the different kinds of bats in RI, click the following link:  Bats of RI

What’s the Buzz on Eating Bugs?

August 8 2014

We brought a new kind of delicacy to Fr. Lennon Park this Friday with a program that explored Entomophagy: the practice of eating bugs for nutritional purposes. Our guest speaker, Kiah Brasch, is an AmeriCorps member with the Ocean State Environmental Education Collaborative who works with the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, RI. She has a personal interest in Entomophagy after being inspired by one of her professors in college. She led our very adventurous park visitors in an informative and hands-on program exploring Entomophagy at its finest!


Preparing the crickets to be chocolate covered

Before our event, April had the pleasure of trying her hand at cooking insects up! Kiah invited April over to learn the ins and outs of cooking for the event – explaining that we would be serving Chocolate “Chirp” Cookies with crickets added as well as Banana Muffins with mealworms in for an extra nutty flavor! While cooking, Kiah talked about the reasons behind Entomophagy and why she is is educating others about it.


Kiah prepares the cookie mix

So what’s the buzz on eating bugs? The concept is not new as our past ancestors’ diets were heavily reliant on bugs. Taking down large prey animals for a nice, juicy piece of meat was very time consuming and could result in injury or death depending on the animal and the chase. Collecting bugs, however, was a very easy task as they are so plentiful and many travel in large groups. Though, in present day, this is not a common practice here in the United States, over 80% of the worlds nations incorporate bugs into their everyday diets! Bugs are extremely nutritional, easy to raise, use very little resources and are tasty too!

Tacos Gone Buggy, from Globequest Travel Club: http://explore.globequesttravelclub.com/2013/a-bug-feast-for-aztecs/

Tacos Gone Buggy, from Globequest Travel Club: http://explore.globequesttravelclub.com/2013/a-bug-feast-for-aztecs/

When most people think about eating bugs, they picture popping a plain, boring bug into their mouth. In fact, there are lots of ways to prepare bugs into fantastic, mouth-watering recipes! With over 2000 species of edible insects in the world, there will be no shortage of variety! Bugs are a part of a group of animals called Arthropods. The word Arthropod means “jointed-leg” or “jointed-foot”. Other animals that are a part of the arthropod group include crabs, lobsters and shrimp. Many of us already eat foods like crabs, lobsters and shrimp. In fact, in many areas, they are considered a delicacy. If we’re already eating other types of arthropods, why not give bugs a try?


Graphic taken from Ento website: http://www.eat-ento.co.uk/

Many of our household meats are tested for a variety of diseases that can be transmitted to the human population. If meats are not cooked well enough or are infected by a disease (such a Bird Flu), the consumer can become very ill. With bugs, this issue is almost non-existent. It is recommended that, when consuming bugs, freezing and then cooking the insects ensures a delicious and safe snack for the consumer. Unlike the pigs and cows, which are mammals just like us, bugs are such distant relatives to humans, it’s extremely rare that any type of illness can be passed between the two species. Kiah told the group about the benefits of eating bugs over many of our normal, household meats and then gave us a great demonstration describing the issue of water consumption. She explained that, though 2/3 of the globe is covered in water, most of it is salt water that fills our oceans! Only about 2.5% of the water is freshwater, and only 1% of that is available for usage as the rest of it is frozen into ice at the planets top and bottom. We all were amazed by her demonstration – how can all our plants and animals (including humans) be surviving on only that 1%?

Kiah teaches about water use worldwide

Kiah teaches about water use worldwide

Mmmmm...buggy snacks!

Mmmmm…buggy snacks!

Then, we got to the delicious part – sampling the foods with insects in them! Chapul, an organization with a mission to build a more sustainable future by introducing incredibly efficient insect protein in a delicious, organic product called Chapul Bars, donated some of their sample products our event. We sampled some of their Cricket Bars, which contained flour made from ground crickets. We then tried the desserts we had made the night prior. Everyone loved the Chocolate “Chirp” Cookies with chocolate covered crickets on top! The Banana Mealworm Muffins were also a hit, especially since Kiah brought some additional frosting to dip them in (no bugs in the frosting though).  After our tasty snack, all our event participants decided to take a hike and search for bugs themselves! Along the way, we found a Harvestman and a Sow Bug, and we were told the Sow Bug would make for a tasty treat if we chose to eat him! We decided to let it out once again back into the park. We also discovered a few ants and evidence of spiders as their webs lay abandon on the fences. We also saw some bugs from April’s bug collection, including a Monarch Butterfly, a Katydid, a few Cicadas at different points of their life cycles and even a Stag Beetle!


Searching for Bugs!


Our favorite story was that of one of our event visitors, who was petrified of bugs. Her mother said she would scream and become extremely agitated when any type of bug, be it fly, bee, ant or spider, came near her. She took a look at some of our bugs from April’s bug collection and saw how pretty and funny bugs could be! She even decided to join in on the bug hunt. At the end of the program, she decided to try one of the Chocolate Covered Crickets, right from the box! She popped them in her mouth, gave out a satisfied “mmmmmm” sound and gave us a big, chocolate-filled smile at the end! When we asked her if she liked bugs, she nodded her head vigorously and said, “yes! I love bugs!”. 

Loving chocolate covered crickets!

Loving chocolate covered crickets!

To view more photos of the event, visit https://www.flickr.com/gp/riurbanrefuge/ot2654.  To learn more about Entomophagy, check out the following links: http://vimeo.com/35846172 – A short video on the benefits of eating bugs as well as a bit about the Ento organization https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDqXwUS402I – A short video about Entomophagy and its benefits http://chapul.com/ – The fantastic company who donated some of their energy bars to our program http://www.eat-ento.co.uk/ – An organization based in the UK who promotes Entomophagy Eating Bugs Brochure – KB edits – Click here to view and download the brochure from our program

CSI Camp: Critter Scene Investigation

August 4-8 2014

IMG_20140806_105309893 This week, 15 Providence campers put on their detective hats as they became Critter Scene Investigators at Nature Camp at Neutaconkanut Hill. Campers had time to explore the Hill while learning many lessons on using clues to identify plants and animals as well as recognizing evidence or signs of animals long after they have fled the scene.   DSCN1168When animals move about an area, they sometimes leave behind signs or “evidence” that suggest that they had been in the area. There are many ways we can discover what kinds of animals inhabit an area without ever seeing the animals themselves. One way to find them is by identifying their tracks. By looking at a footprint’s size, shape and even pattern in which they are aligned in, we are able to make some informed ideas on what type of animal left them. Another way you can figure out what types of animals were in the area is by examining the scat! Scat is just a scientific name for “poop”. By studying an animal’s scat, we can determine what type of animal it is, what it has been eating, and whether it was healthy or sick. We also learned to look for evidence of animals presence in the park by examining trees for chew marks, peeling bark for areas where a deer may have rubbed its antlers, tall grass for feathers or fur an animal may have shed off during movement, half chewed leaves, nuts, or mushrooms where an animal had a bite to eat, and much more! 


IMG_20140805_151020106In addition to learning how to be true detectives out at Neutaconkanut Hill, they also had quite a predicament on their hands as they were presented with The Case of the Missing Eggs. Madame Taragon, a local chicken, found that her eggs were missing one day! She immediately reported this to the police, who then sent the case to the CSI: Critter Scene Investigators at Nature Camp. Each day, they were presented with a clue, examined evidence, reviewed the suspects and their alibis, and came up with claims on who they thought the kidnapper was! In the end, it was discovered that Dr. Renard was the thief and he was forced to return the eggs to Madame Taragon immediately.  All was well thanks to the CSI: Critter Scene Investigators! DSCN1186Campers also had a rare opportunity to examine owl pellets this week! Owls are fierce predators who eat many of the animals we don’t always want around, including rats, mice and snakes, as well as animals like frogs, shrews, and even squirrels! When an owl consumes it’s food, it does not have the ability to cut it up with a fork and a knife. Instead, they swallow it whole! Owls don’t enjoy eating their meat with fur, feathers and bones (we don’t think that’s very appetizing either) so their bodies have a special adaptation that separates out all the extra stuff which they then cough up, which we call “casting a pellet”. Scientists can then dissect these pellets to see what type of animals owls were eating by studying the bones inside of them. Our CSI campers were able to dissect some owl pellets to see what owls were eating. What a great way to do some investigations! After a week filled with many hikes, games, and interesting cases, the campers were able to meet Lady, a Red-Tailed Hawk that is cared for by the Audubon Society of RI. Lady has an injury to her wing that makes her unable to be released back into the wild. She is a raptor, which means she’s a fierce hunter with forward-facing eyes, sharp claws on her feet (called talons) and a sharp, curved beak to help her eat her prey. Everyone was excited to meet Lady and it made for a great last day of camp!  To see more photos from the week, check out our dropbox album at https://flic.kr/s/aHskmKASbk

Learning about Trees at Peace and Plenty Park

August 5 2014

IMG_20140805_105706830Today, we had the pleasure of learning about trees at Peace and Plenty Park! A team of tree investigators took an adventure to check out some of the trees around the edge of the fence. We learned that trees are living things that grow and respire. Trees take in lots of carbon dioxide and release oxygen into our environment. This is excellent for humans as we need oxygen to survive and thrive! Trees that grow in cities have an extra important role as they help to clean our air that is dirtied by the large amount of pollution released by cars, trucks and buildings in the area. We examined the bark, which is like a rough, tough skin that protects from insects, foul weather, fungus, and other factors that may try to invade the tree. We also examined all the beautiful leaves that grow on the tree. We learned that the leaves take in lots of sunshine and help to collect water to nourish the tree. The branches extend up and out on top of the tree to help capture as much sunlight as possible! In some cases, trees may lean and grow toward sunnier areas rather than shadier areas. Pretty cool!IMG_20140805_105712954 We also learned about trees by examining a cross-section slice of a tree called a Tree Cookie! When examining a tree cookie, we can tell the age of the tree, the health of the tree from year to year, whether the tree sustained some injuries or sicknesses, and, sometimes, whether the tree needed to grow in a different direction due to an external factor affecting it’s sunlight or nutrient intake. IMG_20140805_111946299Lastly, after our exploration of the trees, we were made some leaf rubbings and camouflage critters! We chose our favorite leaves and placed them under a plain piece of paper and used crayons to color over the top. This left a tracing of the leaf on the paper! We did this will leaves of all shapes and sizes! We then talked about how many animals, especially insects, have special adaptations that make them look an awful lot like leaves. This is to help them hide in nature, or camouflage! We tested out our hand at making critters that camouflage in nature by using natural items as disguises! We then hid our critters and let April try to find them. They were hard to spot! A great time was had by all at Peace and Plenty Park!

Wilderness Skills Nature Camp at Neutaconkanut Hill

July 21 – 25 2014

Building mini-forts using natural materials found in the park

Building mini-forts using natural materials found in the park

This week, our campers at Nature Camp tested their survival skills out and about in Neutaconkanut Hill. Campers had an opportunity to learn about many tips and tricks to surviving in the wild, including how to use a compass and maps, how to build shelters out of natural materials and analyzed the area to decide what would make for good food and water sources in the woods. One of the best ways to learn about survival in outdoor areas is by studying the lives of Native American’s who originally inhabited the area. What better place to do so than at Neutaconkanut Hill, which was home to the Narragansett Tribe many years ago. The campers were able to examine many natural items that were fashioned into tools as well as learn about what the Narragansett Tribe ate, drank, and used to build shelters. They even learned about some of the fun games the children would play!

View from the Top!

View from the Top!

The Wilderness Skills campers also had an opportunity to meet two education animals from the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. They met a little Painted Turtle named West who gave quite a show as she walked around the room! We learned that turtles are reptiles and are cold-blooded, which means that their blood the same temperature as the air around them. We were able to touch her shell, which felt alot like a rock! She even looked a bit like a rock – which is great camouflage when trying to hide in nature.

Meeting an Eastern Screech Owl named Otie!

Meeting an Eastern Screech Owl named Otie!

We also had a chance to meet an Eastern Screech Owl named Otie! Everyone was amazed that he was full-grown even though he was so tiny! We learned that owls have an extra eye-lid that helps to protect their eyes when they are hunting, eating and flying. We then were able to touch an owl wing and a hawk wing to see the difference between the two types of birds. The owl wing was much softer than the hawk wing. This is because the owl wings have a fringe-like edge to the feathers to help them fly silently. Hawks hunt during the day and rely on speed to catch their food, so their feathers do not have the same adaptation that would keep them silent during flight.  It was a great week of camp! To see pictures from the week, visit: https://flic.kr/s/aHskicZsez 

“For the Birds!” program at Peace and Plenty Park

July 22 2014

Today was for the birds at Peace and Plenty Park! We spent our morning creating bird feeders for the bird visitors at the playground. Using only bird seed, vegetable paste, string and some natural items (pinecones and sticks) we created some feeding stations! Our helpful park visitors got their hands nice and dirty as they created feeder masterpieces. When deciding on where to hang our feeders, the Peace and Plenty Park experts decided to experiment with a few different sites. We hung some on trees, some off the playground and a few off the fences! We wanted to see where the birds favorite spots were! We spread some of the extra seed around the playground area to entice the birds to try our feeders! We learned that most birds cannot smell and that some of their favorite foods are seeds, bugs, and worms! We even spotted a few House Sparrows picking away at some of the seeds around the grounds. What a fun day at Peace and Plenty Park!

Nature Detectives Camp at Neutaconkanut Hill

July 14 – 18 2014

Two Nature Detectives compare the two grasshoppers they caught!

Two Nature Detectives compare the two grasshoppers they caught!

This week, our first Nature Camp ran at Neutaconkanut Hill in collaboration with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. Audubon’s Education Specialist, Sharon, led the group of Nature Detectives in a fun-filled week discovering all types of plants and animals in the park. The group learned about the United State’s ONLY marsupial, the opossum, which carries its baby in a pouch! They played a fun game of tag that helped the campers learn about a special adaptation some reptiles have where they can re-grow a tail if their original tail is snatched away by a predator. They explored the beautiful Neutaconkanut Hill where they caught all kinds of critters, including butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders, and a mantidfly, which even Miss Sharon has never seen before! The campers enjoyed the hikes along the many trails throughout the Hill and enjoyed the beautiful view of Providence from the top.

Whoooo is under these masks? Why, the Nature Detectives of course!

Whoooo is under these masks? Why, the Nature Detectives of course!

On their final day of camp, the Nature Detectives met a Great Horned Owl named Webster who is an education animal at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island. We learned that Webster was in the care of the folks from Audubon because he suffered an injury to his wing that made him unable to be released back into the wild.We observed his large eyes that help him see prey from very far distances, his sharp toenails (called talons) that he uses to grasp onto his food, his beak which is sharp and curved to tear up and eat prey (such as mice, rats, snakes and other birds) and his feathers which are specially adapted to make his flight completely silent as to allow Webster to sneak up on his prey. Our Nature Detective friends promised to visit the Hill again to explore on their own so keep a look-out for our knowledgeable friends from Nature Camp while visiting Neutaconkanut Hill! Check out a few more of our pictures from our camp week! Check out our photos from this week at: https://www.flickr.com/gp/riurbanrefuge/94D5Y8

Birding at Blackstone Park

July 12 2014

Kash and Emeril help set up the mist nets with Peter Paton

Kash and Emeril help set up the mist nets with Peter Paton

This Saturday, visitors of Blackstone Park had a wonderful opportunity to learn about the “How’s and Why’s of Bird Banding”. Bird banding is one way scientists keep track of birds migration patterns. The reason it is called Bird Banding is because each bird caught receives a small, light-weight metal band that is put on their leg. This band does not hurt or harm the bird and does not inhibit any of its day to day activities. Each band has a special number on it that is used to represent the data collected from the bird. If this bird is then caught in another city, state or country, the scientist could look up the number on the birds band to find out where the bird was caught as well as other information about the bird that was collected at the time of its banding.

Peter Paton shows us different parts of the bird

Peter Paton shows us different parts of the bird

One of our participants listens to the heartbeat of the bird

One of our participants listens to the heartbeat of the bird

When we banded, we took notes of some very important information about the bird. We recorded whether it was an adult bird or a younger bird and took measurements of the length of its wing. We then checked to see if it had a brood patch, which is a fleshy, spot of skin on the chests of birds used to help incubate eggs. The funniest part was, to find this brood patch, you simply blow air onto the birds chest. It looked pretty funny when Peter did this! We then had an opportunity to listen to the birds heartbeat. Their heart beat was MUCH faster than ours. Finally, we weighed the bird using a small hand-held scale.

Peter blows on the bird to show off the birds chest. We are looking for signs of a brood patch!

Peter blows on the bird to show off the birds chest. We are looking for signs of a brood patch!

After we collected information about each bird, the event participants were able to release the birds from their hands! We all learned how to do the “banders hold” and hold the birds gently without hurting them. We then carefully removed our top hand when it was time for the bird to go and they would fly off!

Using the proper Bander's Hold, this participant gets ready to release our newly banded bird!

Using the proper Bander’s Hold, this participant gets ready to release our newly banded bird!

We were able to band 3 Song Sparrows, 2 Catbirds, and 1 Robin. We also caught another 2 Song Sparrows and a Common Grackle, but they either escaped before we could band them or their legs were too big for the bands we brought. Peter explained how important banding is when trying to keep data on migration patterns. Many birds will fly south for the winter and return to the same place they were born to raise their own chicks. Therefore, by bird banding in the same spot year after year, we can keep track of some of these birds who are annual visitors to the park. He also told us about people who report in when they find a dead bird that has a band on its leg. Knowing where the bird was and how it was killed may aid in better understanding what these migrating birds face.

Getting an up-close look at the bird

Getting an up-close look at the bird

Taking a look at some of the banding tools, including some BIG bands for bigger birds!

Taking a look at some of the banding tools, including some BIG bands for bigger birds!

One participant asked what is the biggest hazard urban birds face when migrating to or living in our city. Peter explained that the biggest detriment to bird populations are household cats who are let free to roam outdoors. Cats have been responsible for the deaths of 1.4 billion birds each year! That’s alot of birds! (source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/killer-cats-take-down-billions-of-birds-report-says-1.1312489) The best thing to do if you have a cat is keep them indoors. It’s better for the cat’s health and safety and will help save MANY birds throughout the years. Another hazard birds face are windows. They cannot see glass very well and, if the glass is particularly shiny, may see the reflection of a yard in them and assume they can pass right through! One way you can prevent a bird from crashing into your window is to hang bird feeders far away from windows or to put some large objects, such as old CD’s, pie plates or fun-colored ribbon infront of the window. This will deter birds from the window as they will want to prevent hitting the colorful objects that are clearly visible. Click this link to learn more about what you can do to prevent birds from flying into your window: http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/learn/top10/windowstrikes.php http://youtu.be/TNuV_fg03bs http://youtu.be/8-fI2Ci4970?list=UUfqTbdxk0Mzh875jHBpIVJA We had a great day with Peter Paton and the visitors of Blackstone Park and hope to see some of our banded bird friends around! To see all photos from the event, visit the drop box link at https://www.flickr.com/gp/riurbanrefuge/A5oQPr 

Teacher Institute: Day 4

July 3 2014

On our last day together this week, we were excited to see the difference in our traps! Despite the threat of potential bad weather from Hurricane Arthur, the rain held off all evening and into the morning! We head out to Blackstone Park to take a look at our traps for the second day.

In addition to checking traps, we were able to pull out the jars AND toss away all that rotting chicken!

In addition to checking traps, we were able to pull out the jars AND toss away all that rotting chicken!


Lou helps remove our specimens to be identified at Blackstone Park

Lou helps remove our specimens to be identified at Blackstone Park

Here were our results:

Blackstone Day 2

We then head over to Neutaconkanut Hill for trap checks in the meadow once again. We were VERY surprised to find much less than yesterday. Lou explained that beetles will release chemicals to attract other beetles to the food source or areas in which they are, which led us to believe we’d find more beetles in the cups.

The group checks out some of our final traps at Neutaconkanut Hill!

The group checks out some of our final traps at Neutaconkanut Hill!

Our results are as follows:

Neut. 2

After our trap checks, we took a great hike along the Orange Trail at the Hill. We discussed many fun activities the teachers could utilize while leading their classes on a hike and, more importantly, the teachers educated us on what they think they would add to make the activities relevant to their current curriculum. We talked about the importance of art, history, creative writing and other subjects besides math and science, being blended into their outdoor classroom experience. We stopped at a section of the Hill where two cameros have been left to show what happens when rubbish has been left over time. Many discussed how this would be a great lesson on “nature taking back” as well as a fun area to do some creative writing or history piece. We then took a trip to The Boardwalk where the teachers were asked to sit and reflect. They were all amazed by the lack of noise pollution from “city sounds” while in this park despite being so close to the road. We took some time to observe an object in nature found on our walk and shared these with the group. The Boardwalk was a perfect spot to complete our hike at Neutaconkanut Hill. 

Our teachers sat on the bench at The Boardwalk and reflected on all the things we've learned so far

Our teachers sat on the bench at The Boardwalk and reflected on all the things we’ve learned so far

On our final stop, we checked into our traps at Roger Williams Park. Yet again, these traps were holding much less than the previous day’s catch.

RW 2

After lunch, we looked through our Project WILD and Project Wet Aquatic books in order to better understand how to use them as a resource. Andrea was able to highlight all the activities we’ve done that week as well as some that we think would be beneficial to this specific set of teachers. We also took the time to learn some activities involving water quality that can be done both in a indoor AND outdoor classroom! We also took some time to walk the teachers through some amazing online resources for them to use with their class.

The participants share their observations during a Water Quality activity that can be done in a classroom

The participants share their observations during a Water Quality activity that can be done in a classroom

Our final act as the dynamic Teacher Institute Group of 2014 was to summarize at least one of our experiences in a 6 Word Story. 6 Word Stories are a fun way of trying to summarize a single thought into a small statement. The idea is to leave the reader with a statement that provokes thought both into their own lives as well as your experience you are trying to convey with the statement. We started by writing a single sentence and then created our 6 Word Stories based on the main points and key words from the sentence. The teachers came up with their own 6 Word Stories which are as follows:


Our teacher 6 Word Stories, including some of their original thought-provoking sentences followed by the 6 Word Story completions

To view all photos from the Teacher Institute, follow this link to the dropbox folder: https://www.flickr.com/gp/riurbanrefuge/L5JkWM


Teacher Institute: Day 3

July 2 2014

Today, our team went back out into the field to investigate the traps set yesterday. Alongside Lou Perrotti, our teachers uncovered each trap and collected data on the different beetles. We also discussed the importance of keeping notes on anything unique or different about the traps as it may affect our data. We used the following abbreviations to indicate each bug species: Nicrophorus marginatus – Nm Nicrophorus tomentosa – Nt Nicrophorus sayi – Ns Nicrophorus pulstulatus – Np Nicrophorus orbicollis – No Necrophilia americana – N. ame Necrodes surinamensis – N. sur Oiceptoma noveboracense – O. nov Oiceoptoma inaequale – O. in To see a these names aligned with the image of the insect, click this Beetles document to view the PDF. Our first stop was Blackstone Park where we set 8 traps. We were surprised to find that all the traps were in tact as we had made a prediction that there would be some predation or disturbance by either woodland creatures or curious people walking by. We recorded the following results:

Blackstone Day 1

We then took a hike around Blackstone Park to see the area as well as discuss how this park has been used as an outdoor classroom. We talked about the importance of engaging a class in considering what it means to be a part of a community.

photo 14

April discusses a 6 Word Story Mural displayed at Blackstone Park. This mural was created by local students participating in an afterschool program with the Audubon Society of Rhode Island

We discussed the various projects and programs that have taken place at Blackstone Park, including the work done by the Audubon Society of Rhode Island with their Urban Naturalist after school program. In the past, these Urban Naturalists from Providence middle schools, such as Nathan Bishop Middle School and Roger Williams Middle School, have done community projects, such as removal of Invasive Species, research and educating the public on the effects of dog waste left in parks, nature and creative writing murals, field guides specific to Blackstone Park and even created and manned education tables that helped to inform patrons of the flora and fauna found within their park. This was all done in partnership with the Blackstone Park Conservancy group and is a great testament to the importance of engaging local organizations and community groups. By tapping into these resources, the outdoor classroom can become a much more in depth and meaningful experience for all participants involved.

Taking data on our finds!

Taking data on our finds!

Take a look at all our trap visitors on the rotting chicken!

Take a look at all our trap visitors on the rotting chicken!

Using our ID sheets to figure out what insects we caught

Using our ID sheets to figure out what insects we caught

We then head over to Neutaconkanut Hill to check our traps in the meadow. Our results were as follows:

Neut 1

We had a MUCH higher number of catches at Neutaconkanut Hill! We also noted none of our traps were tampered with by any local wildlife or by park patrons.

Using our identification sheets to figure out what we've caught

Using our identification sheets to figure out what we’ve caught

Lou pulls some of our beetles out of the trap

Lou pulls some of our beetles out of the trap

Can you identify this beetle? Our teacher participants can!

Can you identify this beetle? Our teacher participants can!

We then spent some time in the meadow at Neutaconkanut discussing fun activities we could do with a class. One of our favorites were Fairy Houses! Fairy houses are a fun, New England tradition where a park visitor creates a small home for “fairies” to visit alongside trails in the woods. To put a scientific spin on it, we encouraged the teachers to pick some common, urban, woodland creatures to create their shelters for!

This shelter was made with rabbits, skunks and squirrels in mind - in hopes they'd find it a nice place to stop and catch some relief from the sun!

This shelter was made with rabbits, skunks and squirrels in mind – in hopes they’d find it a nice place to stop and catch some relief from the sun!

This structure was made with stones, leaves and even has a trail of berries to offer any critters who choose to use it!

This structure was made with stones, leaves and even has a trail of berries to offer any critters who choose to use it!

Some of the shelters created reminded us of the creations built by a Bowerbird, which are not native to Providence, but are found in Australia. To see a quick and interesting video about this neat little bird, visit this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPbWJPsBPdA We then head back to Roger Williams Park to see what we’d caught in our traps behind the zoo’s parking lot. Here were our findings:  RWP 1 We were all very surprised by the small number of creatures we caught in our traps.  We spent our afternoon participating in many of the activities in the Project WILD and Project WILD Aquatic books in order to get a better idea of what types of activities can be done in both schoolyards and parks during the school year. This program is offered through RIDEM and we were lucky enough to have Andrea Stein as our program facilitator! Check out the many services provided by the Project WILD program! http://www.projectwild.org/  We spent the end of our day reflecting on our comments and concerns about taking kids into the park for outdoor learning in hopes to spend out last day of our workshop brainstorming solutions! To view all photos from our third day at the Teacher Institute, follow this link to the dropbox folder: https://www.flickr.com/gp/riurbanrefuge/L5JkWM

Teacher Institute: Day 2

July 1 2014


It may not be a beetle, but this snake is still pretty neat!

Today was our very first field day out and about in the Providence Parks. We were led by Lou Perrotti, the Director of Conservation Programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. Our field studies were focused on capturing carrion beetles, which are beetles that consume and require dead and decaying meat to survive and thrive. We discussed the conservation efforts being implemented by the Roger Williams Park Zoo toward the success of the American Burying Beetle, which they are releasing and monitoring on Nantucket Island. Lou explained how they trap for these beetles and brought the gear so we could see what types of carrion beetles we could catch in our local parks. To learn more about the American Burying Beetle conservation program at the zoo, visit https://rwpzoo.org/143/american-burying-beetle-repopulation-project  In addition to being an important conservation program at the zoo, the American Burying Beetle conservation project was a great focus for our teachers here in Providence as the components for trapping carrion beetles were cheap, easy to obtain and could be made out of many recycled materials. We are encouraging our teacher participants to create a similar set-up to install in their schoolyards and parks in close proximity to their schools.


Loading the traps with rotting chicken!

We started our field work at Blackstone Park where we set up traps behind York Pond, a small fresh-water spot that drains into the Seekonk River. We found some snakes and some of our brave teachers even took the opportunity to hold them! Because we were trapping beetles that were attracted to dead meat, we had the great pleasure of loading up traps with chicken that has been rotting for almost 2 weeks. No one was a big fan of the smell (except the beetles) but our brave participants loaded up traps alongside Lou in hopes to catch some beetles this week! To learn more about Blackstone Park, visit their website at http://www.blackstoneparksconservancy.org/ We then took a trip to Neutaconkanut Hill to set traps in a meadow, which rests on the highest point in Providence. The teachers noted that some of the traps set in the meadow were located in more direct sunlight, but were spread out in greater distance from each other than the traps set at Blackstone Park. Again, the teachers braved the rotting chicken bait on our 88 degree temperature day! To learn more about Netuaconkanut Hill, visit their website at http://www.nhill.org/


Loading up the trap at Neutaconkanut Hill alongside Andrea Stein and Lou Perrotti from the Roger Williams Park Zoo

Our final park set-up was at Roger Williams Park, just beside the parking lot. Though this area had almost no shade, it was not an area that would be frequented by park visitors, unlike both Blackstone Park and Neutaconkanut Hill. We set our final 6 traps at this site and bid a happy farewell to the rotting chicken! We finished out our day talking about activities the teachers can do with their students to encourage them to observe with all their senses. We studied some biofacts and came up with observations and inferences after using all our senses to explore them. We took a hike outdoors and explored some activities and techniques in getting students to focus in on certain areas rather than being distracted by all that is around them. In one adventure, we took a “12 Inch Hike” by laying a ruler down on the ground and made a list of observations about what we saw along the ruler. Though we were only looking at a small, foot-long area, we found a great amount of biodiversity! We also discussed many “tips and tricks” to teaching in public parks. This opened the door for a conversation addressing the many concerns and questions our group had about bringing their class to a park in hopes to utilize the space as an outdoor classroom.

Our teachers spend some time taking a 12 inch hike in the fields at Roger Williams Park

Our teachers spend some time taking a 12 inch hike in the fields at Roger Williams Park

Lastly, we made some predictions on what our traps would look like tomorrow. Most of our group thought that the traps at Neutaconkanut Hill and Blackstone would be disturbed by other types of park creatures who would want to get their paws on some rotting chicken (such as raccoon and skunks) and we deduced that the beetles would prefer the traps in the shade more than those in the sun. We’ll find out if our predictions held true tomorrow!     To view all photos from our second day at the Teacher Institute, follow this link to the dropbox folder: https://www.flickr.com/gp/riurbanrefuge/L5JkWM

Teacher Institute: Day 1

June 30 2014


One of our teachers shares her version of what a scientist looks like to her

We started our first day of the Teacher Institute today, which is being held at both the Roger Williams Park Zoo as well as in some of our Providence Public Parks. We started by drawing our idea of what a scientist looks like – which included both kids and adults of both genders who had many questions and used tools and experimentation to figure out answers!


Two of our teachers working to create their custom Puff-Mobiles with limited resources, no directions and LOTS of imagination!

We then broke down the idea of Inquiry learning and the importance of integrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) into everyday activities both inside and outside of the classroom. After having a presentation and discussion on inquiry, we put our know-how to the test by building “Puff-Mobiles”! The two teams were given a specific set of resources (including paper, a small amount of tape, a few paperclips, life saver candies, and straws) and were told that they need to make a vehicle that will race across the table when blown with air. We then raced the two Puff-Mobiles to determine a winner of the challenge (which was the Ray and Teresa Team!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlVbEv2U2vo


Baby Roger in a colorized postcard image standing in front of The Menagerie. The Menagerie still stands today as the zoo’s gift shop

We spent some time talking about the history of zoos throughout the years. We learned about the history of Roger Williams Park Zoo, which was one of the first zoos in the nation. They opened their first exhibits, The Menagerie, in 1872, which houses critters such as raccoon, guinea pigs, white mice, squirrels, rabbits, hawks, peacocks and anteaters! There even used to be exhibits throughout the Roger Williams Park itself, some of which are still standing today

Postcard of the old exhibit in Roger Williams Park

Postcard of the old exhibit in Roger Williams Park

(keep your eye out for the old concrete structure originally made for Sea Lions to lay out on in the Roosevelt Lake behind the Casino) Fun fact: The Tropical America Building was once home to the Zoo’s very first Elephant, Baby Roger, who was purchased by the collected pennies  from 2,300 local school children! To learn more about the history of Roger Williams Park Zoo, check out the link on their website at https://rwpzoo.org/103/history-roger-williams-park-zoo and the history section of the National Registry of Historic Places application at http://www.preservation.ri.gov/pdfs_zips_downloads/national_pdfs/providence/prov_roger-williams-park-hd.pdf  We then explored the word “conservation” and discussed what this word meant to us. Some of the suggestions were “Protect, Keep, Plant, Animal, Habitat , Land Areas, Take Care Of, Energy, and Resources”. Other thoughts were ways to conserve, such as “turning off lights, shorter showers, reduce carbon footprint, and recycle”. We discussed the trends and how we thought children would relate to this activity.


Our Teacher Institute Participants of 2014 pose with their data-filled clipboards at the famous dog statue in the Zoo!

After lunch we analyzed the various animals at the zoo to learn about the status of their species and even had a chance to meet some of the education animals! The 5 teachers participating in our Teacher Institute took a self-guided trip around the zoo to learn about the status of the conservation efforts of our zoo animals and even participated in some friendly competition learning from a few inquiry activities! We even challenged them to find the animal at the zoo that is listed as “Extinct in the Wild”. We discovered this label belonged to the Partula Snail housed in the Australasia Building. We then discussed reasons for the decline in animal populations, which include habitat destruction or fragmentation, pollution, hunting, exotic pet trades, climate change and out-competed by invasive species. Finally, we learned a bit about Climate Change by exploring current research and various factors contributing to our planets decline. More importantly, we talked about all the positive changes we have made most recently and discussed ways we could incorporate climate change into school-day learning. We even took a quiz that determined the size of our carbon footprint. Most of us found that, if every person on earth lived like we did, we would need 22 Earth’s to support everyone! To view all photos from our first day at the Teacher Institute, follow this link to the dropbox album: https://www.flickr.com/gp/riurbanrefuge/L5JkWM

Meeting Secretary Jewell 

June 23 2014

Secretary Jewell talks with the US Fish and Wildlife and RI National Wildlife Refuge Complex Staff

Secretary Jewell talks with the US Fish and Wildlife and RI National Wildlife Refuge Complex Staff

On Monday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service members were very privileged to have Secretary Jewell from the Dept. of the Interior visit a few of the refuges in South County. We discussed the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership with her as well as many of the current issues of today, such as climate change, jobs and careers in the science and environmental field, and other initiatives taking place throughout the country. When asked about the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, Secretary Jewell said, ”  The Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership is critical as it basically says that, during the time kids are in school, let’s give them the best classroom that is available – which is the one with no walls; where there is nature. Let’s give them an opportunity to recognize that there are careers out here and important work that is being done to preserve and protect nature, which is essential to human survival as well as survival of all of the species that we are blessed with here and they won’t understand if they are never exposed.” She also addressed the importance of getting kids to appreciate nature in their own neighborhoods in order for them to see the larger picture and learn to appreciate places like the National Wildlife Refuges with a greater understanding. She states, “A lot of the kids that come out [to the National Wildlife Refuges] have no exposure, especially urban kids, and natural spaces, like parks, are viewed as dangerous places to go. So those kids don’t have any of this on their radar, and how can we expect them to if they haven’t had exposure? As you look at more urban and a more diverse younger generation, if we are not reaching out to those kids in school, we are probably not going to get them. And if we do reach out to them in school, they will be exposed to all these careers they didn’t even know existed. They are exposed to nature in a way that we are supposed to be as human beings. A lot of what we need to do to grow a new generation of people who grow to love and appreciate nature is to help them be comfortable in it. I think it’s extraordinarily important.” We were very grateful that Secretary Jewell shared a wonderful afternoon with us and look forward to seeing her in future visits here in Rhode Island.

Group with Secretary Jewell in front of Kettle Pond Visitor Center

Group with Secretary Jewell in front of Kettle Pond Visitor Center


Reflection Day for Paul Cuffee Teachers at Neutaconkanut Hill 

June 20 2014 PCWU

On a beautiful, sunny day at Neutaconkanut Hill, between 60-70 teachers from the Paul Cuffee School gathered to share an hour of reflection of their year together. Gathering in the meadow, the teachers reminisced about the past year while enjoying the sights and sounds of nature around them. Many even stayed to enjoy some rest and relaxation in the sunshine afterwards. “I had no idea this [park] existed!” and “I am blown away by how beautiful it is up here” were comments shared among the participants. We were very excited to share Neutaconkanut Hill with the staff at the Paul Cuffee School and look forward to working with them in the future.

Teacher Institute at Roger Williams Park Zoo 

June 3 2014

Teacher Institute

Local Providence Teachers learn about Conservation Projects at Roger Williams Park Zoo from Conservation Director, Lou Perrotti

We had our very first orientation with 5 of the 6 teacher participants in our summer Teacher Institute being held in July. These teachers have signed up to take part in a week-long professional development workshop that focuses on New England Biodiversity, Conservation Practices, Urban Ecology, and much more! As a team, we will be learning the ins and outs of trapping by Conservation Director, Lou Perrotti, from the Roger Williams Park Zoo, as he takes us through the process in 3 parks right here in Providence. We hope to capture and study the number and types of insects found within our parks that are attracted to the smell (or to the bugs that like the smell) of rotting chicken! What an adventure we will have! We learned about all the Conservation Projects that the Roger Williams Park Zoo supports both in research and in funding as well as learned a bit about the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. All the teacher participants are extremely excited at the prospect of this Teacher Institute. One even wrote to Andrea Stein, the Manager of School programs and leader of the Institute, stating, “I am super excited! I applied because I don’t like teaching science because, truthfully, I am not as comfortable with it as the other subjects. The orientation definitely engaged me and I’m glad I applied!” We are running this Teacher Institute from June 30 – July 3 and cannot wait to share the outcomes with everyone.

Neutaconkanut Hill 

June 3 2014

Today was a day to celebrate the Paul Cuffee 4th grade in a fun-filled event at Neutaconkanut Park. The students visited 3 stations at the Paul Cuffee Day Event which included everything from hikes to meditation to building small structures out of natural materials found in the woods! Parents and families of the students were invited to enjoy lunch and learn at the stations alongside the students. The weather beautiful, sunny, and breezy as we spent the afternoon at the Hill.

Neutaconkanut Hill Investigators

Two students who are a part of the Neutaconkanut Hill Investigators Team


Presentation by NCI

Some members of the Neutaconkanut Hill Investigators showing off their Presentation boards about Earth Day and a Timeline of Neutaconkanut Hill

Some of the students in Miss Barr’s 4th grade class have created a club called the Neutaconkanut Conservancy Investigators who strive to promote an overall message of respect and conservation at Neutaconkanut Hill. They gave a small presentation that included a summary of their Earth Day Clean-Up Event and a Timeline of Neutaconkanut Hill from it’s origins with Roger Williams to their hope for it’s future.

Hiking at the Hill

Hiking along the Orange Trail at Neutaconkanut Hill

April was asked to lead trail hikes around Neutaconkanut Hill. We learned about the history of ferns, smelled the stinky odor of Skunk Cabbage, discussed the reasoning behind the large rock formations and flipped logs to find our fabulous decomposers breaking down our dead trees into new soil!           Our real treat came when we flipped a log and found a beautiful Spotted Salamander! Though quite common along the East Coast, they are hard to find – especially on a warm, summer day like we had. What a treat!

Spotted Salamander

Click to enlarge the photo of our Spotted Salamander!

To learn more about Spotted Salamanders, visit the National Geographic website: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/spotted-salamander/ 

Peace and Plenty Park

May 29 2014

What better way to spend an afternoon than outside planting at a local Providence park? While planting some extra foliage around the outer fence of the Community Garden at Peace and Plenty park, we unearthed a few creepy crawlies! After a bit of research, we deduced that these critters may be two separate life stages of a Click Beetle! What a find!

Click Beetle Larva

Click Beetle Larva

Click Beetle Pupa

Click Beetle Pupa


Life Cycle Stages of Click Beetles

Life Cycle Stages of Click Beetles


If you are interested in learning more about Click Beetles, check out this website: http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Elateridae/ 

We also had some help from our neighborhood friend, Nicole, who released some beautiful ladybugs into the garden. We learned a bit about the life cycle of a ladybug and released them onto the plants surrounding the Community Garden.


Nicole carefully places the Ladybugs on some leaves


One of our newly freed ladybugs at Peace and Plenty!

Did you know Ladybugs go through metamorphosis just like a butterfly? Check out their cool Life Cycle and look for eggs, larva and pupa around Providence in your gardens! Ladybugs are excellent for gardens because they like to eat all the bugs that try to feast on your garden plants!


Life Cycle of a Ladybug!

Keep your eyes open for Click Beetles and Ladybugs at Peace and Plenty Park!

Riverside Park

May 23 2014

Geese at Riverside Park

(click image to enlarge)

On a visit at Riverside Park on May 23rd of 2014, a family of Canada Geese were spotted. Many folks like to feed these animals bread from their homes, but bread can actually make these animals quite sick. This Canada Goose Family has a great habitat in which to obtain its food from. Enjoy observing these animals in their natural habitat!

Photos and Press from the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership Event

May 5 2014

The Partnership came together to enjoy a Designation Event on May 5th. The weather held out just long enough for us to enjoy a day celebrating the wonderful city of Providence and recognizing all who do great work to make our parks fun, safe and beautiful. Please enjoy the photos and press from the event: US Fish and Wildlife Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsnortheast/sets/72157644522005762/ April Alix’s Photos: https://plus.google.com/photos/112128124192597575161/albums/6010366160093159457?authkey=CJ7i5pnF6-vl1wE ABC 6 News Clip: http://www.abc6.com/story/25434437/providence-gets-federal-grant-for-parks-education


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