Thursday, 11 May 2017

Autumn - April and May nature study ideas

We've had a wet and stormy summer, so a sunny day in autumn is a day not to be missed. We pack camera and binoculars and head off in to the outdoors.

The first think we notice is how long (and strange) our shadows are. In autumn and winter, our part of the world (the southern hemisphere) tilts away from the sun causing shorter days but also changing the angle of the sun.
As we walk the children play shadow games - positioning their shadows so they stand on our shadow shoulders, or turning us into giants. It reminds me that autumn is a good time to make sundials and talk about shadows.

Autumn is a good time to encourage children to observe the weather as it changes every day - from sun to rain, wind to stillness, storms to fine weather.

The classic autumn study of leaves changing colour doesn't have quite the same emphasis in New Zealand. In some countries, people think of autumn as a time when leaves turn yellow or red and fall to the ground.
autumn leaves- Europe
In New Zealand our native trees stay green.

But some of our towns and gardens might have deciduous trees. My nature walk takes me through a park with a few exotic trees. It smells of sweet decay like a European autumn, the yellow leaves on the ground are turning brown.
Spicer Park
There are plenty of signs of autumn in the green forest which we can look for and record. Berries hang on the trees and are sought after by birds such as the tui.
Berries on pate Schefflera digitata
A seed head forming on five-finger Pseudopanax arboreus
Some vines also have berries at this time of year. We find a smattering of orange kohia fruit (New Zealand passionfruit vine) on the trail, some smashed, some eaten.
Kohia berry
We look at the difference between kohia vines and kareao (supplejack), noting how much thicker the kohia vines are.
Kohia vines around a tawa tree
 Kareao never gets to be more than a centimetre or two thick and has bright red berries.
Kareao berries
We realise that the different berries help us to tell the trees and vines apart and can use them to make our own field guide.

If we are lucky, we might see animals too. In a stream, we are eight banded kokopu, some appear like ghostly shadows at the top of this photo.
Ghostly banded kokopu
Noisy tui are in the trees eating berries, while fantails flit around us after insects on the path.
Piwakawaka (fantail) peeps out from the rangiora

A strange sight in the bush is a mamaku tree fern, which oozes where it has been cut.

And on the ground and on rotten logs, strange fungi has appeared.

Basket fungus

Places to go
This blog is based on recent nature walks at the beach, at Spicer Botanical Park in Porirua, The Brook Sanctuary in Nelson and Otari Wilton's Bush in Wellington.