Campers com­mune with na­ture at Fair Hill

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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.

FAIR HILL

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.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

Sea­sonal nat­u­ral­ist Les­ley Leader helps young­sters through the owl pel­let dis­sec­tion.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

Jus­tice John­son Black­well, 10, of Wilm­ing­ton, Del., dis­sects an “owl pel­let.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

This photo gives a closer look at an “owl pel­let.”

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY CARL HAMIL­TON

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