Spotlight on squirrels at Felix Neck
Squirrels and all their bushy-tailed quirks were the stars of Saturday's Creature Feature at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown. The fun event drew more than a dozen inquisitive small youngsters along with their parents. A few littler siblings were on hand too, some in strollers or carriers, fascinated to watch what their big brothers and sisters were up to. This was the first-ever Creature Feature to be held in the wintertime, although the programs attracted enthusiastic young crowds in the summer. Teacher/naturalist Susie Bowman said the winter sessions will be held once a month, on a Friday and Saturday morning, making it possible for working parents to attend.
The children crowded around two big work tables in the sunny barn as Ms. Bowman welcomed them, then held up a colorful picture book titled "The Busy Little Squirrel." Embellishing the story with silly sound effects and expansive gestures, Ms. Bowman read about the antics of a squirrel as he encounters other animals on his outdoor adventures. Every page offered another opportunity for teaching and learning.
The subject of hibernation sparked a conversation, and some children were filled with good ideas. Ms. Bowman said that unlike many woodland animals, squirrels do not hibernate - "They do special things to keep warm."
Once she'd finished the story, Ms. Bowman handed out simple drawings of squirrels on which children could draw in the details and features, one by one. The trademark tail was foremost on everybody's mind, as Ms. Bowman talked about all the uses of this fluffy gray appendage.
Asking the children how they keep warm on cold winter nights, she said that squirrels curl their tails around themselves when it's chilly. "They're always carrying their blanket with them - and their umbrella too!"
She told the group that squirrels use their tails to shield themselves from rain and from bright sunshine on a hot day. "And he talks with it," she told the amazed children, showing how the animals use their tails to communicate, just like humans use their hands to wave goodbye or greet a friend.
Finally it was time to head out into the mild, sunny winter morning on a search for a squirrel's nest. Ms. Bowman guided the motley parade of children and grownups as they tramped through fields and down woodland paths, keeping their eyes on the branches above while she shared even more squirrel lore.
Back at the barn again there was a note of hilarity as Ms. Bowman lead the group in "The Squirrel Pokey," the familiar "Hokey Pokey" with a decidedly squirrelly twist. A craft session involving a squirrel and a hollow tree topped off the morning. Many families were in no rush to leave, enjoying the aquariums and other nature exhibits in the barn or taking advantage of the unusually spring-like weather with a walk around the sanctuary.
Upcoming Creature Features will be held on Feb. 8 and 9 when the focus will be on deer, and on March 7 and 8 with owls taking center stage. All sessions begin at 10 am and are designed for children from three to six years old. Pre-registration is recommended so there will be enough materials for all. According to education coordinator Justen Walker, last weekend's programs were so popular that more may be held in springtime. Ms. Bowman and her guitar will lead a Nature Song Sing-along on Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 to 11 am and even more children's programs are being planned.
For more information on Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, visit MassAudubon.org/felixneck or call 508-627-4850.