Gone Pishing…?!

Gone Pishing…?!

To those in the know – AKA bird watchers – “pishing” is a universal term used to describe the various sounds one can make to entice smaller birds to come a lil’ bit closer.

The jury’s still out as to why this works, although there are quite a few theories:
  • The “pshh” sound closely resembles the scolding noise made by birds that are alerting others of a threat or predator.
  • It’s similar to a mother bird’s feeding call to her young.
  • It sounds like insects buzzing around, ready to be eaten.
  • Birds are innately curious and playful and attracted by sounds.

Regardless of the why, get your sounds right and suddenly you’re Dr. Doolittle in the woods, feeding chickadees from the palm of your hand…(not really) and if it fails, well then you’re just another weird, stranger making noises at the trees.

Our 1st time pishing went was not quite the flood of feathers I was expecting. At home, I had imagined it going more like Saint Francis of Assisi, whispering to my winged friends as they fluttered around me…but, uh..yea, it’s harder than it looks. It was another good time to remind myself that when dealing with nature, it’s best to check your preconceptions at the door (who’s the patron saint of low expectations?).

Not all birds respond to pishing and some are more responsive than others. Small birds such as chickadees, finches, nuthatches, sparrows, finches, titmice, jays, warblers, and wrens, are more reactive to these sorts of calls.

It comes down to the type/tempo/volume/combination/style in which you “pish” that makes the difference. Here are some tips that may help you find your inner bird:

  • Switch up sounds like “pishh” “pshh” “sip” “seep” and “chit-chit-chit” and see what works.
  • Draw out the “shhh” like you’re a very angry librarian.
  • Most noises are easily made with your teeth together and repeated about 3-5 times in a slow, regular tempo.
  • Switch up the tempo or mix two different sounds together.
  • Keep your volume conversational. Birds have great hearing and loud noises will scare them away.
  • Kissing the back of your hand in quick succession will give you a squeaky, chickadee-like sound.

After doing a bit more research, we were ready for another try. The fair weather conditions certainly helped and we successfully conjured a few, so I’d call that an improvement!

Like anything else that involves human and nature interaction, there is a point where the ethics need to be considered. Pishing and the use of taped bird calls are controversial and with good reason. We are drawing the birds away from their natural activities and disrupting their day-to-day flow. They could be nesting, caring for young, foraging, etc., and interrupting those daily activities could negatively impact their behavior and survival.

*Important*  Avoid pishing in sensitive areas like rare-bird sites and during breeding/nesting months. There are areas where this practice is prohibited because of the stress and disruption it induces. Always allow birds to return to normal activities after briefly viewing them. Practice respect and good judgment.

Bird-calling is a skill that takes practice to master. Maybe you’ll develop your own style over time and “pish” out the freshest Jays. Or maybe it’ll just be you and the trees, “pishing” in the wind.


Scroll through for more pictures of Legion Pond in Dalton & Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield.

Thank You Walk & Gratitude Tree Activity

Thank You Walk & Gratitude Tree Activity

“Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us.”

David Whyte

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the habit of gratitude, fostering within them with the ability to raise forth positive emotions in their own lives.

Practicing gratitude as a family not only instills children with a lifelong ability to evoke positive emotions, but it also builds deeper family bonds. We build family connections through hiking, but one of my favorite ways to teach gratitude along the way is by taking a Thank You Walk. 

The concept of a Thank You or Gratitude walk is said to have been conceived by mega-guru Tony Robbins as a way to manifest your goals and improve your mindset. In my opinion, it goes back even further to Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote the incredible “Peace is Every Step.” Even if you’re not Buddhist or a big believer in the law of attraction, I think we all could use a little more positive psychology in our lives, and it doesn’t get any easier than taking a walk. Step 1: Open the door. Step 2: Walk out the door….just kidding! But honestly, get outdoors and go for a walk.

 

Some folks do this practice by front-loading their gratitude intentions into each step, letting the rhythm of their steps guide their thoughts. I find this tricky to do with my younger kids so we combined two gratitude activities into one (you can’t have enough gratitude after all, right?)

For your gratitude tree, you will need a handful of sticks to place in a vase. So we set out on our walk to collect some fallen sticks. As we began our walk, I told my children that with each stick they picked up I wanted them to say out loud something they were grateful for. I think when children are younger, having a physical representation of those blessings helps them. Another way to introduce this concept is to read the wonderful book, “A Thank You Walk,” by Nancy Loewen before you head out the door.

 

Bring the sticks home, stick ’em in a vase and print out this Gratitude Activity. Cut out the leaves and write down some things you and your children are grateful for. Tie them onto the sticks with some bits of string, voila! We like to write down one blessing a day until Thanksgiving, and then share them all out loud, during our holiday meal.

Do you have any family traditions that help foster gratitude? Share them in the comments!

Take a Hike to Honor Native American Heritage Month

Take a Hike to Honor Native American Heritage Month

Among other things, the month of November marks Native American Heritage Month.

Colonization has led to the erasure of this land’s first inhabitants, their stories, their heritage, and reinforced a misconception that generations of their ancestors are no longer here. 

It is more important than ever to connect, discover, and amplify the full and first histories, to acknowledge that the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians were pushed from the Eastern seaboard across half a continent, forced to uproot and move many times to their present Land in Wisconsin, and that the Muh-he-con-neok, meaning “People of the Waters That are Never Still,” are still here. 

For those who live in New England, you may be unaware that beneath your feet lies thousands of years of history. The Mohicans inhabited the Hudson River Valley for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. They hiked and hunted the woods, fished the waterways, and planted the soil with corn, beans, and squash. They created beautiful, artisanal things, from pottery to decorated clothing. In wintertime, they hunkered down in their wigwams alongside their families and told stories. In spring, they emerged and gathered sap to make maple syrup. To read more, check out this brief history written by Dorothy David, Native American educator and author, member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe of Mohican Indians.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians has worked tirelessly to preserve, protect, and repatriate their culture and their homelands. Since 1969, well over twenty research trips have been made in order to collect maps, letters, books, genealogy reports, artifacts, photos, and more. The Arvid E Miller Library & Museum is an incredible resource for anyone interested in learning more. In 2020, they opened a historic preservation extension office in Williamstown, MA (watch more about that HERE).

 One way you can actively connect and honor the land and its original inhabitants is to learn its history and then walk it with mindful intention.

These six routes were initially traveled by those who created the paths for travel, trade, and spiritual connection long before European settlement. Pick one and walk in the footsteps of this land’s earliest inhabitants, surrounded by history. While you hike, think about how the trail came to be, or who may have walked these paths before you. 

 

Thomas and Palmer Brook Reserve

Great Barrington / 0.5 miles

Thomas and Palmer Brook Reserve is now conserved, but, like all land in the Berkshires, it is part of the original territory of the Mohican people. The lands in the Berkshires continue to be of great significance to the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican people. Forced into diaspora they currently reside reservation lands in Wisconsin since an 1856 treaty. This year, BNRC opened an accessible trail at Thomas and Palmer Brook.

Umpachenee Falls

New Marlborough / 0.5 miles

This beautiful waterfall bears the name of Aaron Umpachenee, a Mohican Sachem who fished in these waters and all along the Housatonic River Valley. The Umpachenee River spills over the falls before merging with the Konkapot River (named for Chief John Konkapot) south of Mill River village. There are trails to walk and rocks to sit and contemplate what life was like here in the early 1700s. 

Jug End Wildlife Refuge

South Egremont / 2 miles

Skatekook, the last Native American village in the Berkshires, ran from the crux of the Green and Housatonic Rivers, through present-day South Egremont and into New York. It was here that Lt. Umpachenee and four other families lived tenuously until their removal in 1734. At Jug End Wildlife Refuge, hike or snow shoe on part of this former land. The Jug End Loop Trail runs 2 miles through a mix of open fields and woodlands. 

Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary

Pittsfield / 3 miles

This Mass Audubon property was once the summer hunting and fishing encampments the Mohican established in the wildlife-rich Housatonic Valley.

Pittsfield historian J.E.A. Smith wrote, “upon the eastern bank of the river, rises a knoll which was once used as a burial-place by the Mohegans, who, after they were collected in one community at Stockbridge, were accustomed to make pious pilgrimages to this spot, leaving the birch-canoes, in which they had ascended the river, in the Meadows to which they thus gave name.”

Walk the easy 30-45 minute trail along the Housatonic River, past an old oxbow pond, Sackett Brook, and West Pond. 

Monument Mountain

Great Barrington / 3 trails, all under 3 miles

Trustees-owned Monument Mountain is a famous landmark that looms large in the history of the Berkshire Mohicans. Running alongside Route 7, which was originally a major Indian trail known as the Old Berkshire Path. Along the trails, you can still find remnants of paths that once connected Mohican communities to one another, to important natural resources, and to sacred sites. There is also an offering place or “wawanaquasick” as The Mohicans had a cultural practice of leaving stones to commemorate significant events.

Today, members the Stockbridge-Munsee consider Monument Mountain to be a significant place in their culture and history. They continue to make pilgrimages here after being forced to remove from their homelands.

Hiking trails include the 1.5-mile Indian Monument Trail, where you’ll pass the remains of ancient Native American trails and the 0.62-mile Squaw Peak Trail that connects to the summit and the Indian Monument.

Mahican-Mohawk Trail

North Adams, Savoy, Charlemont, Deerfield / 30+ miles

For thousands of years, Native American groups traveled between the Hudson and the Connecticut valleys along a route that followed the Hoosic River, across the Hoosac Mountains, and along the Deerfield River. Europeans expanded the trail into wagon roads, joining villages and towns of northwestern Massachusetts, southwestern Vermont, and eastern New York. Over time, the trail’s route was modified for vehicles, eventually resulting in the construction of Route 2, known as “The Mohawk Trail.”

In 1992, Williams College students, led by Lauren Stevens, explored the history and began re-establishing the original trail. The Mahican-Mohawk Recreational Trail today follows the original corridor wherever possible. In the Mohawk Trail State Forest traverse a portion of the original Native American trail to the summit of Todd Mountain in the . On this 3-mile stretch of trail, hikers walk in the footprints of the original American inhabitants. The path here is a well documented trail in-use since the 1600s. The forest is also the location of Indian Spring, a resting place for many tribes before heading up Todd Mountain. Hikers can return to the park headquarters via the Indian Trail for a loop. Keep an eye out for the single tallest tree in New England, the Chief Jake Swamp White Pine. 

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Maple Seed Dragonflies

Maple Seed Dragonflies


Helicopters, whirlybirds, twisters, propellers, or whirligigs – whatever you call the seeds of the maple tree, they are a source of fun no matter your age. The scientific term for these flying wonders is samara. Find them abundantly littering the ground under a variety of trees in spring and fall. 

We have so much fun tossing helicopters into the sky and watching them spin! After seeing an Instagram post from one of my favorite sites, Nature Play Mothers, I had to try it out this dragonfly craft that takes the whirlybirds to the next level. 

You’ll need some helicopter seeds and small sticks from the outdoors. The rest of the materials are variable to what you may have around the house:

  • Maple leaf seeds (any variety)
  • Small sticks or twigs 2-3 inches work best (we used two larger sticks to make our mobile)
  • String (we alternated from kitchen twine to hemp cording)
  • Scissors
  • Glue (we – and by that I mean me – used a hot glue gun but a tacky glue would work, drying time would be longer)
  • Toothpick (or anything pointy) for pressing wing into glue
  • Monofilament fishing line (for mobile)

Begin by collecting your materials. Plug in hot glue gun (if using). Let the kids snap the twigs down to size and separate seed pairs. Place a small bead of glue on the back side of a stick and place seed point into glue. Press down with toothpick or some pointy thing (avoid sticking your finger into molten hot glue…it hurts.) The tails are delicate but luckily there’s no shortage if they rip! Place another bead of glue on top of the first seed kernel and glue another wing on the opposite side. Repeat with another set of wings 1/4 inch below. Let dry.

You certainly could stop here if you wanted. The string adds a little more texture, durability, and helps to cover up the glue. Starting at the back, hold the end of your string between both sets of wings. Wrap the string around the front and crisscross it between the wings. Once it is to your liking, you can tie it off, or as we did – cut the string and hot glue it to the back.

Wrapping the string is a great activity for fine-motor practice and concentration. Perfect for our 6-year old still struggling to tie his shoes. I made plenty of dragonflies so our 3-year old could wrap and destroy to her heart’s content, but she was more interested in the sticks.


You can leave your dragonflies as is or tie them on a bit of clear fishing line to create a flying effect. We left a few loose for Lego superhero transportation, but we had so many, turned the rest into a mobile! Using two larger sticks, we crossed them in an “X” shape, and wrapped them with more string. We tied them at two different heights. It came out so fun!

 

 


We’d love to hear from you! If you make this project, tag us on Instagram @berkshirefamilyhikes


Fall Hike Activities to Shake Things Up

Fall Hike Activities to Shake Things Up

I’ve never known anyone yet who doesn’t suffer a certain restlessness when autumn rolls around… We’re all eight years old again and anything is possible.

Sue Grafton

As the leaves drop and the temperatures follow, keeping up interest and excitement in getting outdoors can pose a challenge. Check out this list of fall activities that might just be the shake-up you and your family need.

  1. Fall Colors Hike – Head outside and see if you can find a leaf in every color of the rainbow. Grab some paint samples from the hardware store and carry them along to match the hues!
  2. Go for a bike hike! Take your bicycle along on the adventure! Don’t be afraid to walk or leave it at the side of the road or trail to explore.
  3. Hit up a local apple orchard, corn maze, or pumpkin patch for an outdoor change of scenery.
  4. Go for a costume hike! Dress up in your favorite Halloween gear and hit the trails!
  5. Leaf ID Scavenger Hunt. Bring along this printable guide or collect what you find and ID at home. Try your hand at leaf rubbing.
  6. Go for a full moon hike. Bundle up and don’t forget the flashlights and glow sticks.
  7. Fall Scavenger Hunt – Berkshire Family Hikes nature boards are a great option for fall hiking! Slide in the fall scavenger hunt insert or take it along for leaf collecting!
  8. Bat Hunt – Go out at dusk and look to the skies for bat activity. Collect twigs and leaves to make this adorable bat craft from Little Pine Learners.
  9. Puddle Jumping excursion – Gear up and jump in some autumn rain puddles. Come home and warm up with a mug of spiced apple cider or egg nog.
  10. Potion Hike – Go on a hike with the intention of collecting ingredients for a special potion! Give your mini witch or wizard the freedom to collect and brew a spooky elixir.
  11. Spider Web Hunt – As the days get shorter and the nights longer, another sign of fall is bigger and bigger spiderwebs popping up laced with morning dew drops. Here’s how to preserve the webs you find, from Inner Child Fun.
  12. Birds and wasps have begun to abandon their nests and hives. Now visible in the bare trees, go out and spot or photograph some or collect for your at-home nature table.

Need an indoor activity? Some libraries are starting to open back up and it can make for a nice transition back into the day-to-day public. Grab some fall books and sit outside under your favorite tree to read. Here’s a list of some of our favorite fall reads.

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What are you doing this fall? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Leaf Hunting at Laston Park

Leaf Hunting at Laston Park

Just past the Olde Forge in Lanesborough, MA is a budding arboretum. As leaves start to fall, leaf hunting makes a great outdoor activity. Take a left off of Route 7 and visit the trees at Bill Laston Memorial Park. Keep scrolling for a FREE printable leaf hunt!

Fall is the perfect time to visit this tiny gem nestled amongst the shadows of the Greylock hills. Take along a Printable Leaf Hunt and try your hand at identifying the different species of trees. Investigate the changing colors, skip some stones in the creek and take in the stunning foliage views.

Once home to the Sunset Drive-in, (can find one of the original car speakers still hiding in the picnic area?), in 2015 the Lanesborough Tree and Forest Committee planted 25 different varieties at the park including:

  • Sugar Maple
  • Liberty Elm
  • Northern Catalpa
  • Tulip Tree
  • Gingko Biloba
  • Honey Locust
  • American Sycamore
  • River Birch
  • American Larch
  • Linden
  • Weeping Willow

While you’re there, follow the trail behind the baseball field and explore Talcott Cemetery, a 1773 burial ground whose interments include Revolutionary War Vets and early residents of Lanesborough. On your way out of town, don’t forget to stop and wave to King Elmer, a champion Elm tree that sits just off the edge of Summer Street.

Bill Laston Memorial Park is located just off of N Main Street in Lanesborough, MA.

Can’t make it to Lanesborough? Take along the Leaf Hunt to the Hebert Arboretum at Springside Park in Pittsfield or Pfeiffer Arboretum at Long Pond in Great Barrington.


Share your finds with us! Tag @berkshirefamilyhikes or hashtag #berkshireleafhunt on Instagram or Facebook

Need something to do with all those leaves? Make a fall garland!

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