Mini Marsh Montessori Poetry

Ruffing Montessori Upper Elementary strikes again! To celebrate National Poetry Month in April, the Ruffing Montessori 6th year students composed poems about the work they did in and for the mini marsh. They wrote haiku poems, shape poems, and free form poetry to name a few types. We wanted to share their work, so we are posting a few right here and on the Upper Elementary Science Blog. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do! Click on the titles or images to see the poems.

sand poem

boots, mud, shovels, and yellow-flag irises

Stay tuned. There are many more poems to follow.

Bird Alert!!

After the rain a couple weeks ago, the marsh looked refreshed and less parched. There was standing water, and with the plants still low, it was easy to see birds on the ground.

We had three species of shorebirds visiting the marsh that week.  We spotted Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes), Solitary Sandpipers (Tringa solitaria), and Spotted Sandpipers (Actitis macularia) pecking at the mud for insects and fish. As Mr. Justin told his Head Start class, “It’s like a woodpecker in the mud.”  They stopped to refuel for the rest of their journey north. The Yellowlegs spend their winter in South America and summer in Canada; northern Canada. If we are lucky, they will spend a couple days here eating.

Adult  Solitary Sandpiper Photo  Adult nonbreeding

We also sighted Red-winged Blackbirds. They made the typical call, “conk-la-ree! ” and we saw several swoop across the marsh. If you click on the link, there is a place on the bird’s identification page to hear the call.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) pecked along the sandbar on the far side of the water where a snapping turtle was sunning. Blue-winged Teals (Anas discors) and Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flew overhead, and Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) swam in the water. Nature Center regulars like robins, Song Sparrows, Canada Geese and Mourning Doves made an appearance, and a group of pesky Starlings also landed in the marsh. Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum), another marsh regular now that the cattails are gone, are also very active.

On the plant side, lots of sedges have returned from last year’s planting. You can spot many of them close to the deer exclosure. The pickerelweed is beginning to uncurl along the edges of the channel, and the bullrush is standing tall at the water’s edge. The cattails are back, of course with their buddy invader, yellow-flag iris.

The marsh has definitely awakened!

The Marsh and the Public

I would like to invite all of you to the last information session about the marsh project on Tuesday, April 24 at 7 pm. The grant funding is ending, and there will be a tour of the marsh showing everyone how far we have come in 2 years. We will also talk about what’s going to happen in the coming months and what we will do after the grant ends. We will gather inside before we take our tour.

We are also beginning a new volunteer program the 4th Saturday of each month through the fall. If you are interested in helping with land stewardship around the Nature Center, please join us for Stewardship Saturdays. We will be pulling invasive plants out of the marsh and other locations around the grounds. Other stewardship activities include year-round trash removal and native seed collection in the fall. The first Saturday is April 28 from 9 am – 12 pm. Dress for the weather and wear waterproof boots if you have them. We can provide some if you do not. Tools, snacks, and coffee will be provided. Please call Brandon Henneman, Volunteer Coordinator, to sign up (216-321-5935 x 237).


Ruffing It

We interrupt our regular blog-cast for a special feature on the Mini Marsh…

Ruffing Montessori’s Upper Elementary Science program has been pulling yellow-flag irises out of the mini marsh for several years now. These 4th, 5th, and 6th graders strap on yellow boots a couple times each school year and dig the plants out of the wet marshy soil. They learn a little about invasive plants and usually end up covered in mud.


Back in December, the Upper Elementary Science program received a GreenWorks! grant from Project Learning Tree, the environmental education branch of the American Forest Foundation. This means that the iris-pulling stewardship project has turned into a full-fledged service learning project. The students are involved in the entire restoration process.

Last fall, the students collected native plant seeds from around the Nature Center.

We stored them here over the winter, and in March we began planting and “cold stratifying” the seeds. Some seeds, such as buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) can be planted directly in the ground without any additional preparation. Other seeds require a cold period that mimics winter. This process is the definition of  “cold stratification.” Some species (swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata) only require 30 days of cold stratification, while others (white turtlehead, Chelone glabra) require as many as 120 days.

The students completed the entire seed preparation process. They cleaned seeds, mixed them with wet sand for cold stratification, and planted the ones that did not require refrigeration. When the students returned from spring break, many of the seeds sprouted and were transferred into the school greenhouse. This week, we repeated the process, and in the spring we will have plants to put in the ground!


To read more about our GreenWorks! project and other Upper El science happenings, check out their blog.

The students will be featured in future blog posts with their own writing about the project.

Spring-ing to Life

Spring seems to have arrived early at the Nature Center. All sorts of plants are poking through the fallen leaves. One of my favorites is skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) because it is one of the first plants to poke through the snow in the early spring and the flower smells like carrion to attract flies.

These skunk cabbages are growing near the vernal pool. Last spring we also had some near the memorial trees next to the marsh. It would be great if these plants would grow more in the marsh, but they do not seem to spread quickly on their own and we have actually seen a reduction in skunk cabbage over the years.

Now back to the marsh…

It has been a while since the last post. We have been busy inside and out. Outside marsh activities include girdling crack willows and removing invasive shrubs like privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and glossy buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula).

Girdling means cutting a ring around the tree trunk to cut off the flow of nutrients, like in the photo below. This is one of our crack willows.

It seems like we are doing a lot of plant removal. It’s true. But the grant funding allows us to purchase native plants to replace the invasives we removed. We are hosting another planting week in May. We will have a variety of wildflowers, shrubs and trees to place in the ground. You can sign your group up to help, or come individually.

Inside marsh activities included partnering with Ruffing Montessori School’s Upper Elementary science class. More details to follow.


Living Logo

The Nature Center’s logo is an image of the Great Blue Heron for a good reason. We have one or two of these large wetland birds hanging around the Nature Center most of the year.

This winter, Nature Center staff have spotted a Great Blue Heron lingering in the marsh. When there was snow on the ground, tracks were clearly visible near the log jam on the South Branch of the Doan Brook.

Great Blue Herons are easy to identify with their long legs and crooked neck. When they fly, Great Blue Herons fold their necks into an S-shape to help with aerodynamics and their legs stick out behind them. They are the largest heron in North America.

Great Blue Herons nest in colonies known commonly as rookeries (yes, that’s the name of our newsletter). They are also called heronries. They prefer the highest, horizontal branches of deciduous trees or evergreens. They nest in groups, but they hunt alone.

Great Blue Herons eat a wide variety of small animals. Fish are an important staple, but frogs, turtles, young birds and bird eggs, snakes, insects, mice, moles, gophers, and other small mammals are also part of the Great Blue Heron’s diet. These majestic birds walk slowly, but when they spear food, they are quick as lightening.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Great Blue Herons were on the brink of extinction in the late 1800s. Their feathers were popular decorations in ladies hats. DDT was also a factor in Great Blue Heron nest failure. After the US government banned DDT and restricted hunting, the Great Blue Heron has recovered and is no longer an endangered species. That does not mean, however, that they should not be protected.

Under a Blanket of White

The snow storm earlier this week blanketed the marsh. The tall plant stalks stick up over the snow, which is much different from last year’s uninterrupted blanket of white over our cattail mounds.

Last winter’s snowy field:

This winter’s snowy marsh:


The clumps of dead grasses provide good cover for small mammals (mice and moles and voles) and birds.

Animal tracks criss-cross the snow and tell stories about what they were doing.


If you can, check out the marsh before all the snow melts.

Swimming in a Mallard Wonderland

Today’s rain has caused the marsh to flood again. The mallards are loving it!



The rain moved off, the sun peaked out, and the mallards continued to swim around the inundated marsh.


If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the ducks swimming near the marsh deck. They NEVER come up that far.



To see more photos of the Doan Brook overflowing its banks throughout the Nature Center, check out our facebook page.

Restoration: Stage Two

Last year we focused on the central part of the marsh, removing cattails and replacing them with native species. This year we are working mostly on the perimeter under the crack willows. This involves girdling the crack willows and removing the invasive shrubs.

Fall and winter is a good time to work on invasive shrub removal. The shrubs’ nutrient flow is headed down into the roots and will take herbicide directly there. Even if you cut a shrub during the dormant season, it will suck the herbicide painted on the stump into the roots. We started on Monday cutting privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) under the crack willows near the bird blind and painting the stumps. We are leaving most of the debris where we cut it, so the birds will still have places to perch.

In the spring, we will replace the non-native invasive shrubs that we cut down with native shrubs like redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea), sandbar willow (Salix interior), nine-bark (Physocarpus opulifolius), and wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata).


The Geese Strike Again!

A couple weeks ago, I spread seeds out in the marsh. I just sprinkled a handful of seeds on the exposed bare mud. There were plenty of great spots out there since it had not rained in a while.

Today when I went to see if any of yesterday’s snow was still on the marsh, I encountered at least a dozen geese happily munching something in the water. I can only assume it was my newly planted seeds.

Not to be out-done, there were a few mallards hanging about looking for a quick snack.

The seed mix included a variety of grasses, sedges, and wildflowers similar to the species we planted as plugs. The seeds would have been a terrific addition to the plugs, but the geese and ducks think they are a terrific addition to their pallets. Today’s lesson: nature does not follow human rules.