Welcome to the 2016 Nature Camp Blog! We will be posting information and photos of our daily activities on this page. We encourage campers and their families to visit here daily to learn about our experiences and see what the Friends of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge Summer Camp is all about.

Session #1 Camp Blog 2016 

  • July 15, 2016 4:03 PM | Anonymous

    Today was the last day of Camp. There's usually a lot of wrap-up activities for the campers, but this year's group really did stay on top the the activities. They focused on the tasks at hand and got a lot done. We hope that their focused efforts indicate that they really did enjoy what they were doing.

    The campers checked in and signed thank you cards for their Team Leaders and Camp Assistants. Charlie then gave an overview for the day. All of the campers went down to the largest Garry Oak tree about 50 yards out on the Service Road from the EE Shelter. There, our Naturalist Gary Fawver told the story of Garry Oaker, the oldest of the three trees beside the road. The Garry Oak is estimated to be as much as 350 years old.


    The campers then went back toward the EE Shelter for the all-camp photograph. The teams then went out onto the trails for a final walk, sit-spot, and reflections on what they did during the week. During the time that the teams were out, other volunteers set up the Riparian Room in the Visitors Services Building. 

    Upon their return, the campers framed one of their two favorite photos from Photography Day. Tom Shreve and Don Nelson, Friends Photographers, helped them frame the pictures.The other of the campers' two favorite shots were printed as 8 x 10s and mounted on the wall of the Riparian Room. They will remain on display for a couple of months.

    We have Tom Shreve to thank for his masterful job of printing and mounting the pictures. Each year, we are amazed at the quality of the pictures that these kids take. It's hard to believe that they are 3rd through 6th graders!

    Charlie instructed each team on how to assemble their Journal covers and contents. You'll have to agree that the journals are well done. Your children did some great journaling.

    The Team Leads and Camp Assistants took all of each camper's 'artifacts' to the Riparian Room to be on display when the families arrived. 

    The campers were entertained by the Friends stringed trio: Ginny (violin), Sandy (viola) and Gloria (mandolin), who played for them in the EE Shelter. Quite a nice performance! Ask your camper to tell you the differences among these instruments (This is a hard question.)

    The trio then led the campers over to the Plaza for some dancing. 

    It was great to have such a strong representation of families arrive for the camp closing celebration. We were thrilled to see how proud the campers were of the projects that they finished. 

    Please accept the gratitude of the Camp Staff for having your children participate in this year's camp. They are each a wonderful person. We hope to see them again at camp next year, and all of you at the Refuge in the interim.

  • July 14, 2016 6:57 PM | Anonymous

    Today we asked Alexus whether she would like to be Photojournalist for the day. We explained that she was being asked to capture the activities of the day and her teammates in action doing the activities. She would have free reign to capture neat things during the day. She not only accepted, but made it clear that the role would really be exciting for her. She is on the Owls team, which had a guest Team Naturalist in Seth Winkelhake, filling in for Robin Harrower, who was tied up with preparation for another activity.

    Alexus caught a shot of the team heading out on the trail to the Wetlands Overlook.

    A teammate saw or did something cool, which Seth acknowledged to the team.

    As the activity went on, it was necessary to regroup and plan the next step...

    As suggested, Alexus also caught some shots of her teammates...

    Too soon, it was time to head back to the EE Shelter.

    The owl pellet dissection is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you'll get. Alexus uncovered a complete foot from a snack her owl ingested. 

    With a small amount of enhancement, Alexus' dissection of the pellet and her capturing of the foot in a picture speaks for itself:

    Alexus demonstrated her artistic talents as well today. Here is an incredibly beautiful shot of a butterfly courtesy of today's Photojournalist.

    Exceptional job, Alexus! Thanks for sharing.

  • July 14, 2016 4:21 PM | Anonymous

    We arrived to a beautiful morning with cool temperatures and clear blue skies. Today's theme was Signs of Wildlife. We planned two activities for the day: CSI or Critter Scene Investigation, and Owl Pellet Dissection. 

    CSI is a new activity for the Nature Camp. Robin Harrower, a Volunteer Naturalist, designed the activity, hoping to take advantage of the many animal tracks laid out on the concrete structures on the Refuge. They can be seen at the Plaza Overlook, the EE Shelter, the River Overlook and the Wetlands Overlook. 

    The tracks were applied by professional biologists, who were careful to space each footprint exactly as the animal would have as they walked, hopped, ran, or landed on the ground. The biologists had specific stories of interactions among the animals that could be found on the Refuge that they incorporated into the tracks. Robin created an activity that guides the campers through an investigation to identify the animals involved and perhaps collect enough data to propose a story that fits the data they collect. Seth Winkelhake, our new Environmental Education Specialist, joined the Friends in May. Seth is a certified Master Tracker. Robin invited him to finalize the activity. This Session represents the initial exposure of CSI.

    Here, Robin describes the activity to the campers,

    Since Robin is also the lead for the other activity of the day, Owl Pellet Dissection, Seth led her team, the Owls, through CSI. Here, the Chickadees head out to their 'station' at the River Overlook.

    When the Chickadees arrived at the overlook, Team Leader, Michi, and Camp Assistant, Bryanna, used brushes to clear the debris from the tracks while the campers began the journal entry for the activity.

    The campers sketched footprints of the various animals in the concrete, collected data about the size of the prints, how they were spaced, and how the footprints suggested possible interactions among the animals.

    Each team returned to the EE Shelter to review guides, books, and literature related to animal identification of animals by tracks and where the animals live, what they eat, etc. The campers discussed the data, the animals involved in the story, the interaction among those animals to propose a story of what may have happened based on the data they collected. Ask your camper which animals were involved in their story and what they thought happened among them.

    The teams that arrived earlier participated in a game of "Bear, Bug, and Frog" while waiting for the later team. Charlie led the game. The game is based on the premise that "Bears eat frogs, frogs eat bugs, and bugs eat bears." Ask you camper how the game is played.

    When all of the teams were back from the EE Shelter, they went over to the EE Classroom, where Robin introduced them to the Owl Pellet Dissection activity. Robin has led owl pellet dissection for many classes of children. She thoroughly enjoys the activity. Her enthusiasm for it is contagious among the kids. They very quickly overcome and yuckyness associated with it and become just as enthusiastic as Robin. Here, Robin introduces the activity to the campers.

    As the campers began to tease the bones from their pellet, Robin described how to sort the bones and glue them to their card.

    Here, Team Lead Michi helps a camper with her pellet...

    The campers will be able to take their cards home with them after camp. You should know that when camper Trevor says that he had three complete skulls in his pellet, he's not exaggerating. Or when camper Alexus says that her pellet had a completely intact set of connected foot bones, she's correctly describing this very rare observation. 

    This was a very fun and informative day for the campers. It's probably accurate to say that they learned a whole lot without even realizing it!

    Many thanks to Robin Harrower, who invested a lot into making this another great day for the campers!

  • July 13, 2016 6:07 PM | Anonymous

    Ryker took on the Photojournalist role for today. He collected some nicely taken pictures of the artifacts that Marilyn Ellis, Volunteer Naturalist, used for her discussion of Bird Adaptations. Please note that these items have been purchased from or donated by organizations, such as the Audubon Society, for educational purposes.


    A very dramatic shot from Ryker is a closeup of a Red Tailed Hawk's talon...

    Ryker got a nice picture of a couple of his teammates preparing to make their journal covers with Sandy.

    He seemed impressed with solar cooking and got a good shot of the potatoes shortly before they were declared done.

    Ryker ventured down to the pond with his teammates and happened upon a great blue heron hunting. Here's what he caught...

    Nice job, Ryker! You've got a good eye for capturing the moment.


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  • July 13, 2016 2:32 PM | Anonymous

    We are all grateful to Jennifer Bennett, a Friends Volunteer, who painted the camp banner after the campers' and staff's signatures dried. Very colorful! She then passes the banner on to Bonnie Anderson, the Friends Administrator, whom we thank for washing the banner (5 cycles!!) to remove the glue signatures, leaving behind the white background. The 2016 Session 1 Banner was hung in the EE Shelter this morning.

    Today was very different than yesterday. Yesterday was filled mostly with time on the Trails. Today was focused more on understanding and appreciating biodiversity, and how animals adapt to the environment in which they live, with birds as an example. Marilyn Ellis, a Volunteer Naturalist, has developed a new activity to have kids learn about biodiversity and adaptations. All of the Teams of Campers met in the Environmental Education Classroom at the beginning of the day. Marilyn described that, to survive, and animal must adapt to its environment. All birds live in specific niches, which allow the many hundreds of different birds species to exist. Each species has adapted its beak, feet, wings, and tail to enable them to collect the food it eats.

    For example, Marilyn explained the special design of raptor talons, with three toes in the front and one in the rear. She demonstrated to the class how such a design enables eagles, hawks, and falcons to quickly seize and kill their prey. The campers practiced the technique. Have your camper demonstrate the technique to you.


    Marilyn presented the wings and tails of different bird species and described how the design of those appendages enable them to fly in the different ways that species do.


    Ask your camper to explain how the broad wings and tail of eagles and the thin wings and V-shaped tail of swallows allow them to fly so differently from each other.

    We affectionately refer to Marilyn as the Bird Lady. She practices "Total Body Instruction" when that technique is best suited. Today, she demonstrated how a Great Blue Heron, with its very long neck and legs, walks. (View left to right.)

    When Marilyn completed her overview, the three Teams were separated and began a rotation among four stations: "Get It Together", Bird Identification, Paper Making, and Selection of Camper Favorite Photos from Photo Day. The Team assigned to "Get It Together stayed with Marilyn. 

    Get It Together " is a new activity for this year. Campers select from various options of body parts to assemble a bird. They could try to create a model of a real bird, or design a bird that we have yet to observe in nature. Here's a model that Marilyn assembled and the options that the campers have to work with.

    Another station was in the Riparian Room, where our Photographers Tom Shreve and Don Nelson, reviewed all of the photos taken by each camper with that camper to select their favorite two pictures for printing. One will be framed for display in Visitors Center and the other framed to take home on Friday. What were the subjects in your campers favorites? Was it hard to choose two?

    The third station was on the Plaza Overlook, where Gary Fawver, Volunteer Naturalist, gave some instruction for how to identify birds in the field. Ask your camper what clues can be used to determine what type of bird they're seeing.

    All of the campers have been actively engaged this week in entering their drawings, thoughts and other items into their journals. The fourth station was setup for them to make a cover for their journal. Sandy Reid, a Volunteer Naturalist, and Jennifer Bennett, another Volunteer, aided by the Camps Team Leads and Assistants, made covers from shredded recycled paper. They embossed their cover with leaves and sprigs of pine. They'll dry for a couple days and then be attached to their journals.


    Charlie Graham, Camp Director, finally got enough sun to "fire up" his solar cookers. The campers are always intrigued by cooking with sunlight. 

    Everyone enjoyed the baked potatoes. Charlie cooked red,white and purple potatoes and served them with ketchup or Ranch dressing. 

    A busy day. We think that everyone had a good time. Did your camper?


  • July 12, 2016 7:25 PM | Anonymous

    Elianna agreed to serve as Photojournalist for Photography Day. The Photojournalist is tasked with collecting pictures of their teammates in action, but also getting some shots to present what the campers experienced during the day. You'll see that Elianna met the challenge!

    She got several good pictures of her team in action, for example, here's a shot of a couple of her teammates capturing a scene that their Naturalist, Don Holland, pointed out...

    And here's another of some teammates taking stock of what their Camp Assistant, Bryanna has spotted...

    She showed her prowess with trees and flowers with some great shots of leaf galls and some attractive flowers...

    Elianna also can catch some critters, like this robin and banana slug, with her sharp eye through the lens...

    It was astounding to find that a few of the campers were able to find, focus and capture shots of the Great Horned Owl from a distance of 30 yards or so, through clusters of leaves and branches. Here's Elianna's shot.

    Very well done, Photojournalist Elianna! Thank you for taking the role today. You truly were up to the task.

  • July 12, 2016 3:36 PM | Anonymous

    The Camp Staff was concerned yesterday and this morning that we'd have a wet Photography Day. Fortunately, we were blessed with pretty perfect conditions. It was not too sunny, which could have bleached out pictures, and not too warm, which would have drained us all. The campers spent the majority of their time on the trails. Ask your camper if he/she realized that they walked over 2 miles this morning.

    Tom Shreve and Don Nelson, a couple of our photographers, distributed cameras to the campers.

    When everyone had their camera, Tom gave the campers some tips on how to use the camera and how to lay out an interesting photo. Tom was most emphatic with his strongest suggestion, "Have fun!"

    Ask your camper to describe a few of the tips that Tom provided. When your camper brings home a thumb drive with all of their pictures on it, it would be fun to discuss how the camper decided on the subject and how he staged the photograph.

    Elianna agreed to take on the role of Photojournalist for the day. That role involves not only taking pictures of the flowers and critters, but also catching some shots of her teammates in action. There will be a separate posting of her efforts.                                            

    Each team of campers headed out in a different direction to minimize their impact on the wildlife. But before they got even a few feet onto the trails, they were well into snapping pictures.

    They pointed out interesting subjects to each other,

    and then zoomed in to capture the shot.

    Ally "Gator", one of the Camp Assistants, invested some of her time on the trail entering drawings and data into her journal. She also entered some information about the subjects she photographed. She shared her documentation with her Team.

    As presented in yesterday's blog, this group of campers is very special. Not  have they made friends with each other very quickly, but today they demonstrated a willingness to help each other and to share their discoveries. Jonah, the Team Leader for the Beavers, collected a willing beetle onto his finger and then held the bug so the others could get a good picture. He then passed the beetle onto another camper.

    The campers were able to see a lot of interesting creatures and beautiful flowers today. 

    For example,there were some ducks swimming in the canals..

    a very plump banana slug on a stump...

    and some really beautiful flowers...

    Some of the animals were well off in the distance, too far to get a good picture of without a very long lens. The campers enjoyed seeing them, even if the weren't able to get a picture. For example, a great blue heron...

    and a very sleepy great horned owl...

    When we got back to the EE Shelter, the campers did some journaling, turned in their cameras, and had some banana bread baked in Charlie Graham's solar oven, and shared what we saw during the day.

    Dishitha and Alivya, from the Owls team, reported that they saw a "weird tree, lots of moss, a woodpecker, a bald eagles' nest, and a doe with her fawn." The deer were moving too fast to get a picture. The reported that "the pond and river sparkled like sapphire." Elianna and Samara, from the Chickadees team, noted that their team "saw the great horned owl, a very patient robin, the banana slug over some fungus, and some ducks in the creek under a bridge." Avaya reported for the Beavers team. "Lia saw a snake, the team saw a heron fly overhead, and a bushtit nest. They also saw the deer and seven bullfrogs. They sensed that some plants, like pineapple and mint, smelled very nice, but other plants smelled bad. The team learned to distinguish poison oak, stinging nettles, and poison hemlock." Ask your camper what they found especially interesting.

    Photo Day is a traditional favorite of the campers and today should be no exception. We hope that your campers came home as the Camp Staff did, pumped up for all we got to see and capture with a camera, and exhausted for the energy we spent without really realizing it. Each camper will bring home a thumb drive with all of their pictures on it. Look forward to a fun time reviewing their efforts.

  • July 11, 2016 3:38 PM | Anonymous

    Our Nature Campers arrived this morning under cloudy skies with a temperature of about 60 degrees. They were met by their Team Leaders and Camp Assistants, who assembled each of three teams, each team overseen by a Volunteer Naturalist. Each of the campers signed the Camp Banner. The teams this year are named the Chickadees, the Beavers, and the Owls. Ask your camper to demonstrate their team’s call. The campers were issued their caps, backpacks, drawing supplies, loupes, and water bottles. Each camper was provided a snack to sustain them through the morning. 

    Our Camp Director, Charlie, had the campers throw small furry animals back and forth to each other to loosen up the teams and introduce each other. Ask your camper what animals were involved. 

    The campers returned to the EE Shelter for an introduction to Journaling, which is an important aspect of the Nature Camp. 

    We provided each camper with a journal to record their thoughts and observations during the week.

    After a restroom break, each team of campers and staff was photographed before they hit the trails at about 9:35. 

    The teams visited the vernal Pond area, the Oak Savannah, and the Habitat Edges, where the campers made their first entries into their journals during their first “Sit/Spot” of the week. 

    Ask your camper what a Sit/Spot is.

    Everyone returned to an area beside the Visitors Center that was mowed by the Fish and Wildlife Service Staff for everyone to experience the “Build a Tree” exercise. Each camper, team leader and camp assistant played a role of a specific part of a tree and demonstrated the function of each part. What part did your camper play and how did they demonstrate its function?

    Everyone then returned to the EE Shelter, where Gary Fawver, one of our Volunteer Naturalists, presented the skulls and pelts of several animals which can be found on the Refuge. These animal parts are purchased by the FWS specifically for educational purposes. The pelts are from animals that have died from natural causes and the skulls are plastic models, and very realistic. 

    The campers then did some journaling to capture some more of their favorite aspects of the day.

    We will end each day of camp with a camper or two from each team collecting comments from their teammates and sharing them with the larger group. Maia, representing the Chickadees, reported that the Oak Galls, both on branches and leaves, were fascinating. The fact that they were the home and provided food for wasp eggs to mature was particularly interesting. Jarett, from the Owls team, was congratulated for his journal entry of a skull, which includes measurements of its dimensions and labels of the skull parts. The Owls like the Pond area, noting that the wet ground there is a great place to see mushrooms. Ryker and Leah, from the Beavers, were also intrigued by the galls, and commented that their yellow and orange color was distinctive. Leah found a fallen and broken leaf gall, which she picked up to examine. She observed that the inside of the gall was stringy and sticky.

    With a few minutes left before their parents arrived, Charlie used one of his ‘toys’ to model the power of team cohesiveness. He held a ping pong ball with a light inside and two contacts on the outside. When he held the hand of a camper and one of the contacts on the ball, and the camper touched the other contact with their other hand, the ball lit up. When a second camper held the hand of the first and then the second touched the contact with their free hand, the ball still lit up. We added all of the campers and staff to the chain, one at a time. As long as the chain was continuous, with each camper holding hands and both contacts touched by the chain, the ball lit up. If any pair ‘broke contact’ the light was extinguished. Male, female, tall short, old, young – it didn’t matter, working together “keeps the lights on.” After only one day, it's apparent that this group of campers and staff won't break the chain!

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