No-Bake Energy Bars

No-Bake Energy Bars

These no-bake energy bars are so delicious and easy to make.  Whether you are going on a nature walk, hiking, biking, or on any other outdoor excursion these bars make an excellent trail snack.

Total Time: 20 minutes
Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup almonds, chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 4 dates, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup Bob’s Red Mill Quick Cooking Whole Grain Rolled Oats, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup honey (or maple syrup or agave)
  • 1 cup natural peanut butter (or other nut butter of choice)
  • 2 Tbsp. Coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Optional Ingredients: 

1 cup of cranberries, raisins, dried cherries, dried blueberries, dried apricots, mini chocolate chips, or other dried fruits and nuts.

Asparagus
Instructions:
  1. Combine chopped nuts, oats, and dates in a medium-size bowl.  Work the dates into the dried oat/nut mixture to incorporate them well.  
  2. Heat honey, coconut oil, and nut butter in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat until the mixture is smooth.  Pour over the oat, almond, and date mixture until well combined.  If you are adding chocolate chips, let the mixture cool down a little before adding otherwise you will have melted chocolate chips which is not a bad thing.
  3. Once everything has been mixed, transfer to an 8×8 inch baking pan and flatten into a 1-inch thickness.  Top with some extra chocolate chips pressing gently down into the bars.
  4. Cover with beeswax and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight.    
  5. Cut into 8 squares and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.  Enjoy!
Chef Yvonne Dwyer

Recipe compliments of OPL Naturalist and Home Chef Yvonne Dwyer

OPL Plant-rich Recipes

Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you and the planet.  Find more delicious OPL-recommended plant-rich recipes here.

Marinated Veggie Salad with Olives

Marinated Veggie Salad with Olives

Marinated Veggie Salad with Olives is an easy side dish to take to a picnic. It also looks great on a charcuterie board and makes an excellent appetizer. Store this vegetable salad in a Mason glass jar in your refrigerator until you are ready to serve it.

Servings: 4 – 6

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar (apple cider vinegar works well also)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced carrots (cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds)
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • One 14-ounce jar of quartered artichoke hearts water-packed, drained
  • 1/2 cup assorted pitted olives
  • 1/2 cup roasted red bell pepper strips, water-packed
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Asparagus
Instructions:
  1. In a large glass 4-quart measuring bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, and bay leaves. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, carrots, and celery; cook for one minute. Drain the vegetables and transfer them to a large bowl; add the vinegar mixture and combine. 
  3. Add the quartered artichoke hearts, olives, roasted red bell pepper strips, oil, and capers. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 24 – 48 hours.
  4. Remove the bay leaves—season to taste with salt and pepper.
Chef Yvonne Dwyer

Recipe compliments of OPL Naturalist and Home Chef Yvonne Dwyer

OPL Plant-rich Recipes

Eating more fruits and vegetables is good for you and the planet.  Find more delicious OPL-recommended plant-rich recipes here.

Aquatic Macroinvertebrates are Signallers of Water Quality

Aquatic Macroinvertebrates are Signallers of Water Quality

Aquatic macroinvertebrates signal to us the quality of our waterways. From our local watershed to our rivers, these small animals and larval stages of insects can be seen without a microscope; they play a large part in our freshwater ecosystem, recycling nutrients and providing food to fish and other higher-level aquatic animals.

There are many resources available when it comes to learning about how to conserve, preserve, and protect nature and how to share what we have learned.

Recently, we participated in a program led by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) called “Canaries of the Stream.” In the same manner aquatic macroinvertebrates signal water quality, canaries are signallers of air quality and are often used to detect air quality in coal mines.

Our tour leaders, comprised of university interns and DCNR educators, led us to a high-elevation tributary cold stream to learn about aquatic macroinvertebrates. We studied how they indicate the health of this particular area that makes its way to the Youghiogheny River. Tools supplied by the DCNR for our aquatic expedition included a large net to collect sediment from the top, middle, and bottom of the stream, tweezers, three trays to which stream water was added in each, an identification poster, and a marker to record what we found in the water. Once we filtered the stream water through the netting, organic matter and aquatic macro-invertebrates were taken to the shoreline to identify. Right away, the most noticeable was a good-sized crustacean resembling a miniature lobster, known to us as a crayfish. We quickly released it back into the shallow rocky water.

Aquatic ecologists have categorized species of aquatic macroinvertebrates into four functional feeding groups (Cummins 1973). 
  • Shredders such as Caddisflies and Stoneflies process organic small decaying matter such as leaves, debris, and other vegetation in the water. 
  • Collectors that include Beetles and Dipteran (true flies) filter and accumulate even smaller pieces of organic matter found in the water column and bottom sediment. 
  • Grazers are found on rocks and woody debris.  Imagine Caddisflies and Beetles grazing on other aquatic insects, Periphyton, Detritus, and submerged aquatic plants.
  • Predators, like Dragonflies, prey on dead animal material in the water.
Once our eyes adjusted to seeing the tiny animals moving in the sediment, we used tweezers to move the specimen into the trays. 

We used the Key to Macroinvertebrate Life identification chart to identify and circle what we had seen.  We identified the following: Cranefly Larva, Lobster-like Crayfish, Water Penny, several Caddisfly Larva living on the bottom of a rock submerged in the stream bed, Caddisfly Larva, Dobsonfly or Fishfly Larva, Stonefly Nymph, and Mayfly Nymph.

After releasing the aquatic macroinvertebrates back into the water,  we categorized and allocated a number for each specimen identified and their tolerance level. 

Water quality is identified in three groups; tolerant, fresh, and sensitive to pollution tolerance/intolerance.  Based on the Aquatic macro-invertebrate water quality benchmark chart below, our total score was 24 indicating excellent water quality.

  • Excellent (score of >22 or at least 4 “S” taxa*)
  • Good (score of >17-22 or at least 2 “S” taxa)
  • Fair (score of 11-16 or at least 1 “S” * taxon)
  • Poor (score of <11 or at least no “S” taxa)

We recommend participating in biodiverse nature and ecology programs led by DCNR in your national, state, and local conservation and protected areas. These interesting educational programs, often free, open eyes to a whole new world, the importance of biodiversity, friends, and maybe even a new opportunity.

*Taxa:  plural noun of Taxon
Taxon: used in the science of biological classification, a group of any rank, such as species, family, or class seen by taxonomists to form a unit.

Why are Vernal Pools so Important to Ecology?

Why are Vernal Pools so Important to Ecology?

When we think of bodies of water, we automatically visualize a creek, lake, river, and bodies of oceans; however, did you know that seasonal wetland water sources called vernal pools created in a natural setting are just as important? Vernal pools are unlike other freshwater wetlands mainly due to what happens in late winter and early spring. Melting snow and rainwater collects in small, depressed areas in various landscapes, such as forested habitats, floodplains, and old quarries. We may think of them as mud puddles or stagnant pools of water, which they are not.

Why are vernal pools so important?

According to the National Wildlife Federation, “Vernal pools play a critical role in the ecology of many forests and prairies by sheltering species, including declining amphibians.”  They are essential for supporting the health and biodiversity of our forests and are an integral part of the wildlife food web. Vernal pools are ideal for many obligate small species of life such as American wood frog tadpoles, toads, Jefferson, eastern and spotted salamanders, and various insects. In addition to other invertebrate species like fairy shrimp that are unique and interesting. Fairy shrimp produce eggs that can survive on a dry vernal pool bottom until the vernal pool refills. The eggs only hatch when the water conditions are right for survival.

The primary source of food and energy for multiple vernal pool organisms are fallen dead tree leaves, which lie at the bottom of the vernal pool.

In the fall, autumn leaves are shredded by caddies-flies, isopods, and other species sliced into smaller pieces that other creatures can eat to obtain energy. Next, wood frog tadpoles, fairy shrimp, and a variety of insects eat more minor bits of residues left behind. Finally, insects, spiders, amphibians, reptiles, and birds consume the leftovers. When many vernal pools have shrunk to mud holes in late summer and fall, reptiles such as turtles and snakes rely on them for shelter and food.

Several local and state parks have educators on hand who have created programs, from birding to vernal pool explorations.

When exploring vernal pools with or without a guide, we find that having a small backpack or field bag is necessary. In addition, we have a journal and writing tool, a little fish aquarium dip net to find aquatic animals, a book to identify the species you have discovered, a pair of binoculars to view your specimen, and a reusable drinking bottle, and a snack.

Read our blog on the importance of biodiversity, Biodiversity is Life and Extinction is Accelerating to learn more.

A Bioblitz is a Great Way to Learn What is Living Near You

A Bioblitz is a Great Way to Learn What is Living Near You

When you are outside, have you ever noticed anything interesting or peculiar regarding plants, insects, animals, birds, fungi, or trees, that you wished you could identify? A Bioblitz is a great way to learn what is living in your regional environment.

Join a bioblitz as a volunteer citizen scientist and help identify species near you.

“Bioblitzing” is a fun way to turn ecology into a captivating story. Getting involved is easy. You help scientists collect an inventory of increasing/decreasing species and document how well or poor native/non-native species are doing in their natural/unnatural habitats in our ever-changing climate, locally and globally.

What is a Bioblitz?

A bioblitz is a collaborative intensive quick field study that provides data to scientists over a specific time in a designated region of living things such as plants, animals, insects, fungi, and microorganisms.  This study helps identify uncommon or unique habitats for protection and management and identify rare species. 

All you need is a camera or a smartphone and an app such as iNaturalist (respected as one of the world’s most popular citizen science data portals.) Follow the app’s setup instructions, record your observations on your preferred device, upload photos with a comment and add them to a chosen organization’s project.  Currently on iNaturalist there are 85,406,596 observations. Research-graded data (the highest quality data) includes a photo or sound recording, what was seen or heard, correct identification, GPS recorded location, time and date of encounter, and posting to your account so that you as a citizen scientist get credit for the observation.  

Organizations where you may participate

A bioblitz is local, so there is no need to travel far in your scientific journey.  If you travel outside of your region, there are many projects you can participate in worldwide. These organizations typically launch bioblitz programs.

  • Local, Regional, County, State, and National Parks
  • Heritage, Nature, and Watershed Conservancies, Botanical and Aquatic Gardens, Arboretums, Science Centers, Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, and Universities
  • Government agencies such as the Department of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Urban Connections Programs, and Bureau of Land Management
The time frame for a bioblitz varies.

You can bioblitz for 5-10 minutes in your backyard, viewing the natural world while participating in a community bioblitz project. You can also join in an intense study held for a designated location over a season. The data you collect may include findings of spring ephemerals, macroinvertebrates in streams, and migrating birds. A word of warning; You may find yourself immersed with fresh air, exercise, and a sense of purpose as you look a little closer into the natural world, thereby spending more time as your curiosity peeks into the world of biodiversity.

Have fun out there!

Read our blog on the importance of biodiversity, Biodiversity is Life and Extinction is Accelerating to learn more.

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