Sheffield Elementary students explore the great outdoors

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Sheffield Area Elementary School students in grade 1 and kindergarten spent the day learning all about the outdoors during a trip to Chapman State Park on Thursday.

Four groups of young students spent the day engaging all of their senses as they made all sorts of new discoveries in the outdoors Thursday.

Sheffield Area Elementary School students in kindergarten and first grade spent the day exploring and learning all about nature and wildlife during a trip to Chapman State Park.

As a woodpecker tapped on a nearby tree, Amanda Lindemuth, a volunteer with the park, asked a group of students gathered near the beach area what they heard. “Birds,” the students called out.

Lindemuth then showed the students a place where birds had made a nest in the eaves of a building at the park. She pointed at a spot on the wall near the nest and asked the students what they saw. “Bird poop,” they answered. “Right,” Lindemuth replied. “That’s evidence that birds have been here.”

Lindemuth then sent the group to an area near the building to examine some trees and see what they could find. Some of the findings they reported included insects, teeth marks, holes and missing bark. Lindemuth told the students some of their findings could have been made by birds, insects and animals.

A short walk to a nearby pavilion led to a spot where more students learned about many of the animals found in the area. They also got the chance to find out what the animal’s coat feels like.

Dave Donachy, Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officer, displayed various animal pelts as he told the students about each one.

Donachy showed the students a pelt from a bobcat. He told them the bobcat was named for its short bob-like tail. He added that the bobcat’s camouflaged coat helps it hide.

The bobcat is the only wild cat that lives in Pennsylvania, he said. “It’s sneaky. We have lots of them around here,” he said. “Their sense of smell and eyesight is so good that they see us before we would see them.”

Donachy then held up two large furry pelts, one brownish and the other much lighter. He told the students he had a trick question but they should remember that all of the animal pelts belonged to animals that live within the state.

“Who knows what animal these belong to?” Donachy asked the students. More than one group of students first guessed, “polar bear.” Thankfully, polar bears are not native to the state.

The pelts actually belonged to deer. The light-colored pelt was from a deer called “Piebald”, according to Donachy. He told the students he has seen between 10 to 15 piebald deer in his lifetime.

Contrary to popular belief, a piebald deer is not a cross between a normal whitetail deer and an albino. The origin of the word “piebald” comes from “pie” meaning “mixed up”, and “bald” meaning “having a white spot”. Piebalds have various amounts of white and brown patches similar to a pinto pony.

After the students had a chance to ask some questions and feel the pelts, they headed on to other activities including a nature walk and a scouring of a nearby creek in search of salamanders.

The students quietly listened as they heard the calls of Orioles and Grosbeaks. They also watched as geese put their “butts in the air” as they fed in the lake.

As they left the trail and waded into the water, the salamander hunting was hampered by the abundance of muddiness created by lots of little feet.

Following some time for lunch and a stop at the playground, the learning continued with presentations on fire prevention and a visit from Smokey the Bear.