Hiking Discoveries

This week’s Bonus Blitz Blog was written by Sierra R., a Bass alumni. She attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy this summer because it looked like a good opportunity to further her education and to give her a deeper look into different career fields. Sierra’s hobbies include hiking, nature journaling, Girl Scouts, and theater.

Hiking is one of my favorite activities. Not only do you get to enjoy the outdoors, but if you’re curious like me, it becomes a time to explore and discover. No matter what time of the year I go on a nature walk, I always come back with new knowledge. I am very fortunate to have a hiking trail and an abundance of woods right next to my house, and I wanted to share some of the neat things I found on a hike in September. (Additional info about hiking is also included at the end of this blog).

At the beginning of my path are two shale mounds, which are perfect sites for fossil scavenging. On many occasions, I have found small fragments of fern fossils; My largest fossil being around 2 inches long. On this particular hike, I came across another small but rather nicely preserved part of a fern fossil. When I don’t find fossils, I usually find spiders, and I have yet to find a snake sunbathing on the shale mounds.

The fossil fragment I found is approximately 1.5 cm long and 1 cm wide.

Later on my trek, I noticed a very bright pink plant with green leaves. Known by the name of Doll’s Eye, or White Baneberry, this plant is native to the US. In the early fall, it sprouts an eye-catching pink top with white seeds, thus the name Doll’s Eye. I hope that everyone already knows not to eat random berries they find in the woods, but I feel that this disclaimer is especially relevant. Doll’s Eye is not edible and is known to be fatally poisonous to most mammals, often inducing stomach problems and heart failure within 12 to 24 hours of consumption. Birds, however, are immune to these fatal effects and enjoy the Doll’s Eye seeds as they please. For this reason, the plant’s seeds are mainly spread by bird droppings.

Notice the unique top with white berries on this Doll’s Eye plant.

On my way back home, I found one last surprise. Laying on the ground with the leaves was an empty snail shell a little bit smaller than a quarter. Despite it being a little old, I tried to see if I could distinguish what type of snail it once belonged to after I got home. Although I could not identify its former owner, I did learn that PA has around 100 species of land snails!

The mysterious snail shell I found on my way home.

I’d say that my favorite part of hiking is a three-way tie between discovering, researching, and sharing. During my week at the virtual bass camp this year, I was introduced to the app INaturalist, it’s a very useful app to share and track your nature findings, of course, the old fashion way of sharing your findings with your friends family and teachers is always encouraged too!

Now that I’m done sharing my findings, here is the extra hiking info I mentioned at the beginning. If you’d like to go nature walking, but are in an area where nature is sparse, try looking up public hiking trails or state parks online. Now it’s important to note that if hiking in a state park, it is often against the rules to take home things like plants and rocks (including fossils), so it’s best to just take pictures of your findings. If you are curious about PA’s state park rules, the link to the newest DCNR PDF can be found here.

Also, no matter where you are, be safe and always try to bring a buddy. I never leave my house for a walk without a bright drawstring bag with supplies like my phone, a power bank, a pocket knife, a mini first aid box, and water; other good items are gloves and a trash bag for any trash you may find along your way.

I think it’s important that people get the chance to let their curiosity thrive. For me, the woods is the best place to discover and grow a connection with nature, but I don’t want to confine that idea to just one activity. There are several different activities that you can enjoy that foster learning and connecting with nature. For Example, joining a club in school or getting involved in a nearby bird tagging group. Whatever floats your boat. And never be afraid to share what you love with those around you!

The photos used in this blog belong to the author. The sources that the author used can be found here, here, and here.