We are heading off to the pond tomorrow for a nature walk and I thought I'd share our plans here to make it easy for you to pack the kids in the car to try something like this for yourself.

This week our homeschooling co-op will be studying the riparian zone of our local pond. The riparian zone is the vegetative area between land and water.  This zone runs along the perimeter of the pond and it is often muddy and murky.  The riparian zone is the home to many plants and animals.  Because the plants in the riparian zone often provide shade, this zone helps the pond maintain a cool water temperature.  The plants in this zone also help with erosion control and they serve as a filtration system for the pond.

Have you ever read The Wind in the Willows?  The animals in this book spend a lot of time in the riparian zone of the river.

Although you don't need anything other than your five senses to do a proper nature study, I'll include a few items below that you could toss in your backpack if you would like to.

Optional Items to Bring on your Trip to the Pond
-Mud boots
-Containers to collect insects, plants, and other specimens
-Mason jars with lids to collect water samples
-Magnifiying glasses, pocket microscopes, and field guides
-Dip nets 

What to Look For in the Riparian Zone of the Pond
Cattails: Red Winged Blackbirds often build nests on top of cattails. (Don't disturb the nest if you find one). A cut cattail could mean that there is a muskrat at work in the area. 
Eggs: A pond is a great place to find fish eggs, salamander eggs, frog eggs, and mosquito eggs.  If you plan to do this nature study in the summer, you will most likely find minnows and the other creatures at a further stage in their life cycles.
Holes: Holes at the edge of the muddy bank might be a place for crayfish to hide. Holes in trees near the pond can indicate that wood ducks have a nest nearby.
Mud: Bend down and look for animal and bird tracks in the mud.  If your family is like mine, you are probably noisy when you come to the pond and you might scare the animals away.  We like to look for evidence of animals and birds.  Tracks in the mud tell us who comes to the water to feed, drink, and hide from predators.  If you are looking for discarded muskrat homes, check the mud.  Snails and dragonfly nymphs can also be at the muddy bottom of shallow water.
Insects: Look for insects skimming on the water and jumping on the plants in the riparian zone.  A good field guide can help you identify the many insects you will find.

Plants: Marsh marigolds, swamp grass and sedges will be on the outer edge of the riparian zone (near land). Cattails and arrow heads will be in the shallow water.  Pull out the roots of a plant that lives in the water and from a plant that lives on shore and compare the root systems.  Discuss how soft the mud is in the marshy area and why a huge tree couldn't grow in this area.

Logs: Painted turtles are usually found in the marshy grass or sunning themselves on a log.  If you turn over a decaying log, you might also be able to find a salamander

Optional Books to Enhance your Study
Handbook of Nature Study Pages 400-415, 498-500

What are your favorite plants and animals to look for in the riparian zone of the pond?  Leave a comment below with your favorite nature find!


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