Campers commune with nature at Fair Hill
— Approximately a dozen people, mostly youngsters, pitched tents over the weekend as part of the Great American Campout at the Fair Hill NRMA Cockerham Primitive Campsite.
“This is the only time for camping here for the general public,” said Al Brown, a seasonal ranger at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area. “The idea is to get people outdoors.”
He explained that, in observance of the national Great American Campout event, the campsite that is typically reserved for youth groups was opened from 3 p.m Saturday through 9 a.m. Sunday for people wanting to camp in and learn about nature under the supervision of him and Lesley Leader, who is a seasonal naturalist. The participants had to pre-registered and pay $10 per family.
After the campers pitched their tents, one of their first activities was a lesson on owl pellets – and not just talking about them, either.
Under the direction of Leader, youngsters in blue surgical gloves used tweezer-like instruments to dissect the blackish, charcoal-looking balls and reconstructed the bones. Then they referred to rodent/bird chart and identified the creature that the owl had eaten, before vomiting its fur and bones.
Owls eat rats, field mice, moles, shrews and other rodents whole, as well as birds, but they are unable to digest their bones and fur. So they regurgitate the bones and fur, which land on the ground in the form of owl pellets, the campers learned.
Those pellets can be dissected and, after separating the fur from the bones, the skeletal parts, skulls included, can be totally reconstructed – to the point that a person can tell which type of rodent or bird the owl has eaten.
Another activity was a ranger-led hike north, where the campers could see a Mason-Dixon line marker. Other activities included cooking dinner on a campfire and Ranger Brown’s educational presentation on bats, which also included bat-related games.
The people who participated in the event were no strangers to camping, or to Fair Hill for that matter. Phil Smith and his wife, Anita, who live across the road from that Fair Hill property, are avid campers. They brought their granddaughter, Neveah Watkins, 10, and some of her friends on the overnight camping trip.
“We’ve camped before. We love the tranquility of it, just being out in nature,” Anita said.
Seasonal ranger Al Brown teaches Rachel Dutcher, 11, of Newark, Del., how a bird’s wings allow it to fly. Brown is holding a bird wing in his left hand. Seasonal naturalist Lesley Leader helps James Dutcher, 6, of Newark, Del., with his “owl pellet” dissection, as seasonal ranger Al Brown looks on. Maria Dutcher, who is James’ mother, took him and his sister, Rachel Dutcher, 11, on the overnight campout.
Seasonal naturalist Lesley Leader helps youngsters through the owl pellet dissection.
Justice Johnson Blackwell, 10, of Wilmington, Del., dissects an “owl pellet.”
This photo gives a closer look at an “owl pellet.”