Nature Notes from Common Ground

Week of February 15, 2021

Smelly Foxes

While hiking in the forest, take a deep inhale and see if you smell a skunk-like odor. You may be on the trail of a red fox. It is mating season for the red fox, which means they are peeing everywhere, even on each other! Their urine has a very strong, skunky odor that lingers for a long time. They use their urine to communicate -- marking their territory, marking caches of food, and even marking each other to show they are mates.

And it’s not just pee -- foxes also poop in very conspicuous places to show where they have been. Look for fox poop (similar to the poop of a cat or small dog, often containing hair and twisted on the ends) on top of stumps or rocks. They make it obvious because they want other foxes to notice that they have been there, which can help us track them too.

In addition to urine and scat, foxes have scent glands all over their bodies they can use to mark. Red foxes have scent glands in their mouths (which leave scent when they gnaw on things), around their anuses, on their paws, and on their tails. The tail gland is also known as the violet gland, because apparently it produces a smell similar to (but much stronger and funkier than) violets.

While these smells help us notice when a fox has been nearby, to another fox, they carry an incredible amount of information. Foxes can tell the age, health, and status of other foxes by these smells alone.

For a little more information on fox scent:

And for incredibly detailed (possibly more than you could ever imagine!) information on fox scent:`


Nature activity of the week

Fun with Veggies!

Check out these fun root vegetable activities for kids, courtesy of the Put Local On Your Tray program:


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Hike of the Week

Alice Newton Street Park

Each week we share a kid-friendly hike or other outdoor adventure.

For a visit to Alice Newton Street Park, click here!


Weekly Video

Maple Tree ID in Winter



Maple Sugaring Family Workshop

Join us (including Flannery, featured in the video above) for stories, activities, and demonstrations that explore the science and history of making maple syrup!

Register HERE:

Our online Maple Sugaring Family Workshop will take place on Saturday, February 20, 3:30-4:45 pm. We have a limited number of workshop kits and will confirm a pick up location with you if you are able to receive one.

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Common Ground High School Open House

Thinking about high school options for your child?

Come find out about Common Ground: a unique, college-preparatory high school with an environmental justice mission.

  • A Public Charter High School open to students from New Haven & all Connecticut towns

  • More than a school: An inclusive community of 225 students, dedicated to the environment and social justice

  • A challenging, interdisciplinary core curriculum that gets students ready for college and careers, leadership and life

  • Students find their paths through after-school programs, paid green jobs, dual enrollment, internships & unique courses

  • Located on 20-acre campus at the base of West Rock -- a farm, in a forest, in a city

Join us for a virtual open house, Tuesday, February 9, 5-7 pm.

To schedule a visit (virtual or in-person) contact Sharyn Lopez:

To receive information on visiting virtually, please submit an application on our website:


About this series

Our programs for children at Common Ground are place based, hands on, and focus on community, friendship, and nature-based learning and play.

In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.

Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.