Journeys of Dr. G at Tyler Arboretum

The sabbatical project continues, exploring all that Tyler Arboretum has to offer

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Pumpkin Days 2013

It finally arrived! Tyler Arboretum’s biggest event of the year – Pumpkin Days – was held October 19 & 20. The weekend was packed full of various “edutainment” opportunities, with all proceeds benefiting the Arboretum and supporting continuing educational programs and conservation efforts – clearly, a win-win day for all involved!

DSCN2571Pumpkin Days had a little of everything for everyone. I saw several kids walking around with their faces painted while painting pumpkins, playing games, and watching balloon sculptures being formed before heading over to climb in to Stubby the Traveling Helicopter (thanks, American Helicopter Museum!). Families were enjoying making their own scarecrows and taking hayrides, while I saw everyone enjoying the Penncrest High School Pep Band perform. I was even able to catch some of the Baywings Falconry show!

An event such as this takes an enormous amount of planning by the Tyler Arboretum staff, and staffing by all of the wonderful volunteers that give their time to supporting Tyler’s mission. (Did you know it takes over 300 volunteers to help host Pumpkin Days???)  I assisted on Saturday morning with getting people from the buses that brought visitors over from the Penn State Brandywine parking lot through the cashiers to go off and enjoy the beautiful fall weather we were having. It was fun to chat with old and new member of Tyler, as well as first-time visitors to the Arboretum – they certainly picked a great day to visit!


I’m looking forward to my next visit on Saturday, November 2, when I’ll be speaking at the meeting for the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation, hosted by Tyler Arboretum. It should be a very informative day, celebrating all of the work being done to preserve and protect the American chestnut. You can learn more about the meeting at the TACF website.

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Volunteering at the Butterfly Festival

ongoldenrodWho isn’t fascinated with the beauty of a butterfly?  Each and every time this summer when I have visited Tyler Arboretum, I have been greeted by lots and lots of butterflies, and I have taken so many pictures of these marvelous winged creatures.  It is only fitting that Tyler hosts a festival in honor of the butterfly.  Held on August 24, below is the description Tyler provided of the Butterfly Festival:

Say a fond farewell to the monarch butterflies as they are tagged and released for their southern migration to Mexico! Experts will be on hand with tips on creating a butterfly friendly habitat in home gardens with all their favorite plants. Learn all about butterflies native to our area, transformation from egg to caterpillar, then to chrysalis, and finally to butterfly and hear about butterfly secrets. Discover bugs like never before with amazing live and mounted specimens brought by Jon the Bug Man Insect Educators. Games and make-and-take crafts round out the day.

I figured it was about time for me to “step up” my participation in a Tyler festival.  In the past, I had always attended Tyler’s events.  Except for Pumpkin Days, I had yet to serve as a volunteer to help an event.  Through a simple online form, I was able to sign up to volunteer – it was that easy!  Tyler’s volunteer coordinator, Melissa Hamblin, sent me a reminder email before the event, and I was then on my way to volunteering at the Butterfly Festival.

I arrived at 9:30AM, the start time of my volunteer shift, and immediately jumped to help Director of Public Programs Betsey Ney with whatever was needed.  After helping move some materials from the Barn to behind the Butterfly tent, I was told that my assignment for the day was to be in charge of the “Feed the Hungry Spider” Game.  Betsey provided me with a few educational talking points about spiders and spider webs, and I went off to set up my game to be ready for the official 10AM start to the Festival.

If you have not seen this game before, it is very cute!  A spider web is created from a hula hoop, sticks and string.  Small pieces of cardboard with Velcro on the front are attached to the web to make the web “sticky.”  Small rubber balls had the opposite side of the Velcro attached on one side, with a picture of an insect (a fly, beetle, bee, etc.) taped to the other side.  After my short story of how spiders trap their food, kids then tried to throw the balls to attach to the Velcro pieces on the web to – well, feed the hungry spider!

2013 Butterfly Festival

I hung two “spider webs” from this dogwood tree, and then, I let the game begin!  You can see one of the trapped insects in the upper left corner of the web to the right.

I was busy during the entire festival, which ran 10AM to 2PM.  The kids were so cute and determined in trying to get the insects to stick to the web.  Some of the parents couldn’t hold back from participating in the game, either.  I even had some repeat players, kids that came back to play a second time because they had so much fun.

Being a volunteer meant that did not get a chance to participate in the other activities during the festival.  I did not see Jon the Bug Man (actually, I still remember doing a bug collection in the 7th grade and mounting my own specimens), and I could only glance across the lawn and here a mini-crowd express their oooo’s and ahhh’s each time a tagged Monarch butterfly was released.

2013 Butterfly Festival

Butterfly-attracting plants, and Monarch release crowd

2013 Butterfly Festival

Arts and crafts tent

But, typical of all of my Tyler experiences, I still learned something that was unexpected.  By volunteering, I was able to witness for myself how much fun kids have learning about butterflies, and how they liked to share their knowledge with me.  I learned that families greatly appreciate the range of activities available during Tyler festivals.  And I was able to meet so many interesting people, if even for a brief time.  The last report I heard was that there were over 1,500 people that attended the Butterfly Festival.  Not all of those attendees came and played the Feed the Hungry Spider Game (a missed opportunity, for sure!), but even some adults without children came over and asked how the game was constructed and played.  Two adults thought the spider web was a great idea for a Halloween decoration, and one mother talked with her son about using the hula-hoop web as a way to make his spider Halloween costume.  I even met one woman who was seeing a Monarch butterfly for the first time in her life that very day.

Wow!  There are lots of take-home messages for me from this experience.  I’ve learned that by volunteering just a few hours of my time, I can really make a difference in helping Tyler with its educational and outreach mission.  I’ve learned that an event at Tyler with a defined topic or theme can create an incredible range of takeaways for visitors, ranging from Halloween costume ideas to a first monarch butterfly sighting.  Most of all, I’ve learned how much fun it can be to work with other volunteers and the staff at Tyler Arboretum.  I’m looking forward to volunteering again (the current volunteer opportunities are always listed online, and I’ll definitely be helping with Pumpkin Days in October – both during the event and by baking a food item for their bake sale! (see page 14 of Tyler Topics newsletter for Autumn 2013).

2013 Butterfly Festival

Inside the Butterfly House

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Have you met Owlexander? He was at the Tree House Festival!

The tree houses are such a hit at Tyler Arboretum, it only seems fitting that there be an annual festival to celebrate – well, tree houses!  When you first heard about the Tree House Festival, maybe you were like me.  I originally thought to myself, “I’ve already seen the tree houses – what could possibly be different this time?  Why should I go?”  Well, if you did not make the trip out to Tyler today, be sure to mark your calendar to attend next year – there is something for everyone, things that you do not get to see at Tyler every day!

2013 Tree House FestivalFor the kids, there was a wealth of educational and fun activities.  It was fun to see kids engage with the multiple stations for hands-on arts and crafts.  I wish I was half as creative as these Tyler volunteers that were leading the crafting tables!  And I appreciate how environmentally-friendly the craft activities were – one of the tables had a copy of the book The Lorax (he speaks for the trees, you know!  There is even a website to learn more about The Lorax Project).  If kids weren’t making crafts, they were getting locked in to ropes and harnesses to climb one of Tyler’s trees (under the watchful eyes and guidance of Oakwood Tree Care Professionals, of course).  It looked like SO much fun, I wish I could have climbed!  But my eye was caught by a crowd gathering behind the barn, so I went to investigate.

2013 Tree House FestivalAs I walked closer to the group of onlookers, I could finally see what all of the gathering excitement was about – it was a collection of hawks and falcons on display!  Rarely do I get the opportunity to get so close to these beautiful birds, and the “keepers” of the creatures were there to share facts and figures and to answer any questions from the group.  Kids wanted to know why some feathers were shorter on the tail than other feathers, while adults were asking if the species were native to Pennsylvania.  I could have stood for over an hour just at this spot to watch the movements and hear the “screeching” of the birds, and to listen to all of the information shared with my fellow onlookers.  Meet two of my favorite new bird friends (the Gyrfalcon and European Eagle Owl) below!

2013 Tree House Festival

This is a Gyrfalcon, a bird typically found in northern North America, but it does come down to Pennsylvania in the winter to search for food.

2013 Tree House Festival

Meet Owlexander! This is a European Eagle Owl (also referred to as a Eurasian Eagle Owl), one of the largest owl species in the world. He is only a few months old but fully grown – and has claws that you do not want to get close to! This creature is not native to Pennsylvania.

After getting saturated with facts about the raptors (and taking many, many photos!), I decided to take the time to walk the newly-dedicated Scenic Loop path.  I wasn’t brave enough to walk on the day of the dedication, which happened to be the hottest day of the year.  But since today there was a break in the heatwave we have been experiencing (only 88 degrees today!), I wanted to give the Loop a try.  What a really enjoyable walk!  Even on a hot and sunny day like today, there are enough trees along the pathway providing periodic shade as a break from the sun.  Today was a fun and educational day – looking forward to more of these kinds of days at Tyler!