Looking for Love on the Bay

children with horseshoe crab Travis Hellebrandt 1171x593

Why is it everyone is mesmerized by horseshoe crabs, especially children? Watch for these ancient creatures in June as they come to local beaches to spawn.

Travis Hellebrandt

Nature Journaling: Week 11

Find our complete Nature Journal series here.

“It is the month of June,
The month of leaves and roses,
When pleasant sights salute the eyes
And pleasant scents the noses.
” —Nathaniel Parker Willis, American poet

This June will arrive like many before it, with sighs of relief from students, teachers, and parents as the pace slows down. Sunlight streaming in widows and bird song replace alarm clocks. June brings traditions and rituals that signal the end of spring and the beginning of summer: The last day of school. The neighborhood pool opening. The first cookout with crabs, sweet corn, and juicy, red watermelon. These events fill our calendars every June. In nature, a whole slew of monthly rituals occurs simultaneously in and around the Chesapeake Bay.

June is named for Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage. Appropriately, June is when many living things look for love. All around you can see, hear, and even smell the various methods different species use to woo their mates.

The raucous calls of cicadas fill the air throughout the Bay watershed. What we hear as shrieks and whines is actually a sweet serenade. The males of most cicada species vibrate their tymbals, a part of their exoskeletons, to attract nearby females. Females then respond by snapping their wings. This mostly occurs high in the trees, unseen by humans. But we do hear their songs, which can travel as far as a mile away.

Fireflies (or lightening bugs, depending on where you grew up) flicker in the evening air. They’re courting too, using light instead of sound to attract potential mates. Each firefly species has a unique flashing pattern it uses to signal potential mates. These whimsical critters spark wonder in children and adults alike, even inspiring a weekend festival in Farmville, Virginia, to celebrate the return of these luminous insects. Because fireflies rely on seeing these flashes against the night sky to find a mate, light pollution, or artificial light, can confuse them. Help fireflies use this brilliant display to find a mate by turning off your porch lights. Then watch and see if you can discern the different patterns.

Another of June’s amorous displays occurs by the water’s edge. If you find yourself walking the beach at Sandy Point State Park, or any other of the many beaches along the Bay, at high tide on the night of the full moon, you might witness hundreds of horseshoe crabs crawling onto the sand. These ancient, alien-looking creatures gather and come ashore to spawn all along the East Coast during May and June. They lay their eggs and then return to the watery depths to resume their solitary wandering. Their tiny, vulnerable hatchlings find shelter in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake.

Animals aren’t the only ones looking for love. Plants use a combination of bright colors and sweet scents to attract pollinators. Each day seems to bring new blooms and floral scents. Those of us living in the lower Bay states of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware are already enjoying these sights and smells. As the weather continues to warm, these sensory pleasures travel northward to delight folks in Pennsylvania and New York.

All month long, the smell of honeysuckle wafts on the breeze mingling with sweet scented magnolia. Bees buzz between blossoms carrying and depositing pollen at each stop. In the coming weeks and months, flowers will shed their petals to reveal developing seeds. Take a walk around your neighborhood and see how many different types of flowers you can spot. What adaptations are they using to attract pollinators?

One June ritual Virginians won’t get to enjoy this year is CBF’s Clean the Bay Day. The first Saturday in June will pass without the appearance of more than 6,000 volunteers cleaning up waterways across the state. After thirty-one years as one of Virginia’s largest annual volunteer programs, CBF is sad that the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to scuttle Clean the Bay Day 2020. We plan to reunite next year for a 32nd Annual Clean the Bay Day that’s bigger and better than ever. You can still capture the passion of the event and the month this year with plenty of ways to save the Bay, learn outside at home, and reflect on nature's rituals.

What other June rituals and traditions can you think of, observe, and record in your nature journal this week.

Prompt #34: Cast of Characters

Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials

Assignment: Find a safe spot to observe nature (backyard, porch, by a window, nearby park). Observe the wildlife in this natural area. Identify and document the different animal species. Create sketches of each different species and document the behaviors they exhibit. Based on their behaviors, give each animal a character name, like Busy Squirrel or Loud Bird.

Additional resources:

Journal Prompt: Write a short play based on your nature observations. Have each animal character play a role based on the behaviors they displayed while you were observing them.

Prompt #35: Patterns of Growth

Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials, outdoor or indoor plant

Assignment: Choose a plant* to observe for one week. This could be a houseplant, a new garden seedling, or even a plant growing through a sidewalk crack. Document this plant for the next seven days. Record its height, coloration, estimated number of leaves, new buds or sprouts, and any visible damage. Note how it changes each day. Record how you think the plant might feel based on these changes.

*if possible, sprout your own plants from dried legumes (see Project Learning Tree resource)

Additional resources:

Journal Prompt: Does recording daily information about your plant help you see the small changes that occur each day? What tools would help you document this plant better or more easily? If you could start your experiment over again, how would you run it differently?

Prompt #36: Territory Quilts

Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials, internet access or field guides

Assignment: Find a safe spot to observe nature (backyard, porch, by a window, nearby park). Spend a few minutes watching all the moving critters in this natural area—from the very small to the large. Do your best to identify at least five of these animals. Using field guides or the internet, determine the territory size each species needs to thrive. Create a ‘territory quilt’ design in your nature journal. Because most animals require different materials to survive, the territories will be different sizes, shapes, and may even overlap with one another. Be creative and cover the entire page with animal territories.

Additional resources: 

Journal Prompt: Why do you think it’s important for animals to have their own territory? Why would they need to defend their territory?

We would love you to share your nature journal entries on CBF's Learn Outside Facebook Group!

Educators Ronnie Anderson and Kathlean Davis

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