A Day of Discovery

Written by Chad Thomack
    Wednesday, 23 October 2013
A Day of Discovery

There are moments in a naturalist’s career that are magical. You feel like you are in a famous science documentary. The narrator in your head starts to say, “That’s when he discovered the most amazing...” but is cut off by the children surrounding you, giggling with excitement. As you snap back to reality, you think about just how lucky you are to be able to share your passion with these future environmental scientists. I had one of these moments during a new summer camp called “Animal Extravaganza.”

The children gathered in the Community Science room after a full morning of learning about mammals and for some well needed lunch. Now it was time to take our studies out into Riverside Park.

We hiked along looking for our furry friends. The campers stopped to point out squirrels and dogs and, although these were interesting, the children wanted more. The river is a good place for mammal sightings so we headed to where I had seen deer, fox and coyote congregating in the past.

As we kept our eyes open for mammals, we entertained ourselves by looking at (and tossing) rocks in the river. Suddenly, a camper shouted. He had found a strange bug clinging to one of the stones! After further inspection, we determined it was a dragonfly larva. I had not seen one on land unless it was getting ready to leave the watery world below and become an adult dragonfly. Sure enough, the exoskeleton started to wiggle a bit and in a few minutes it split open down its back as its wings and body struggled to push out from the shell. All the children’s eyes were glued to the show as the dragonfly emerged. A boy smiled at me and said, “I can’t believe I am watching this happen!”

Campers holding new dragonfly in the sun.

One of the girls took this insect eater of the sky with her on our hike so we could continue to watch the process unfold. Its wings were all balled up but in minutes they expanded an inch. Just when we thought they were through stretching out, they grew a few centimeters more, its body did the same. How amazing to see this large bodied insect emerge from its small exoskeleton.

The campers watched our dragonfly dry off in the warm summer sun. But for me, the children watching in amazement was a more pleasing sight than the bug. The dry narrator in my head was replaced by a camper’s voice saying, “If you wouldn’t have let us play on the rocks, we might not have made this discovery.”

What a proud and fun moment to be an educator. No doubt these moments of transformation in nature will help to transform the lives of the campers. Hopefully this experience will be the spark that ignites a love of being outdoors: exploring, learning and enjoying life.

Chad Thomack

Chad Thomack

Chad Thomack, Environmental Educator, has been a staff member of the Urban Ecology Center for over 15 years.  Chad received a biology/wildlife degree from UW Stevens Point and has been teaching about nature ever since.  His hobbies include outdoor adventures like kayaking, mountain biking, trail running and cross country skiing, as well as exercising, reading, playing video games, journaling and gardening.


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