Monday, November 29, 2010

Black and White Bird Study

I hope everyone had a wonderfully blessed Thanksgiving holiday.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely with friends and family.  As I had mentioned in prior posts, we live in a farmhouse that dates back to 1782.  One advantage to living in a house with so much history is a cooking hearth.  Each Thanksgiving we cook our entire meal over the fire and in the beehive oven that adjoins it.  The only exception would be the turkey.  I had great plans to document the process for a post, but unfortunately I was too busy cooking to think about the camera.  Next year I will try to capture the event.  It really is like stepping back in history.

Today we got back into our school work, and as you know we have science Monday.  Our friends at the "Outdoor Hour" are in between sessions and will start up with the winter challenges in January.  So from now until then we will be using The Handbook of Nature Study to guide us through some investigations of our own.  We have had a flurry of activity at our bird feeder, and our new feeding platform.  The boys enjoy sitting in the kitchen window and observing the antics.  They are able to identify several of our visitors including the bluejay, cardinal, and goldfinch.

I have strategically placed a hanging bird identification guide between the windows.  As the boys sit there, we are able to discuss what birds we see, most of which are represented by our little identifier.

Our focus this week is on black and white birds- specifically the chickadee and the downy woodpecker.  We began our study reading a few books.

Then we watched several video clips from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.  If you love birds, and have not had the opportunity to discover this site, beware.... you will be on it all the time!  The site is one of the most comprehensive on the web.
Here is the link to the video of the black-capped chickadee.
This one is of the downy woodpecker.

The boys were fascinated by not only the visual, but the excellent recording of the songs of the birds.  "I" really enjoyed trying to copy the voicing of the chickadee by saying "phoebe.....chicka dee dee dee."  The downy woodpecker makes a whinny in its song that was reminiscent of our horse study.  They both thought that was pretty funny.

We headed outside for a walk on our property.  We are surrounded by woods,  wetlands, creeks, and small farms.  It is a haven for birds.  A few steps into the woods we could hear the sweet songs of several chickadees.  We climbed down a slope into the marsh where there is an abundance of dead waterlogged trees.  One was particularly noteworthy.   It is riddled with holes created by our local friendly downy woodpeckers.

They boys approached the tree and were able to put their hands inside the holes made by the woodpeckers.

As we climbed out of the swamp, we looked for other evidences of woodpeckers.  We found this on the ground.

Back inside the house we watched the feeder for a bit and recognized the black-capped chickadee.

(Sorry for the photo quality, it was through the screen and window....) We did not see any downy woodpeckers today.  Each of the boys completed two coloring pages courtesy of the Lab of Ornithology.   They were very careful to color each part with the correct markings for the black-capped chickadee and the downy woodpecker. We used our field guides to help us keep the markings straight.

We discussed the differences between tree climbing birds such as the downy woodpecker, and perching birds such as the chickadee.  It is amazing how two feeder birds can use their feet so differently.  We learned how the male and female chickadee have the same markings, and how male downy woodpeckers have the red head and the females are more black.

Then I was inspired by two things.
 The paper puzzle I made for the boys for our goose study

and these beautiful counting cards made by Eboo

I liked the idea of creating two new bird puzzles for the boys, but I wanted them to last longer than the paper did.  Looking at these wonderful counting bird cards, I noticed that some of the prints used to make the birds look like fabric.

I pulled out my quilting scraps and worked with the boys to cut out the colors and markings for each of our featured birds.  We used a piece of blue wool as a background and built the bird puzzles. The fabric is not only durable, but captures some of the color variation in the feathers.

The completed puzzles were placed in separate bags and put on the science center along with the wool background.  By practicing with the puzzles, the boys are sure to learn the distinctive features of each of these birds.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Autumn Series #10: November World

Outdoor Hour button

It is hard to believe that ten weeks has gone by since we began this nature study.  To conclude this series we went back to Moreau State Park.  That is were we began our goose study back in September.  For some reason I never anticipate too much out of these walks, but I am always pleasantly surprised by the abundance of what we are able to observe.  We had a great deal to compare and contrast.  We traveled the same trail that we explored earlier in the fall.  As you follow along with the photographs see what observations you can make.  

Here was the view over one of the small ponds in September.  

Here is the view in November 

As you would expect the leaves are off the trees and there are a limited number of water fowl in the pond.  What I found fascinating was the difference in the water.  The lack of aquatic plants in November creates a very blank austere setting.  

As we started down the path we immediately came across signs that the beaver have been hard at work.  
The boys were very excited to see what they had done.  I couldn't believe the size of the tree they were taking down.  This is not exactly a sapling.  This tree is not in the middle of the woods either.  It is right next to a well traveled path.  We discussed how and when the beavers must be working at taking it down.  

As we continued, we visited the lodge that the beaver make their home.  Here is the picture from September.  
Here it is in November.  

We did notice that there seemed to be a new log placed on top of the lodge.  We were curious as to what they planned to do with the large tree they were taking down. 

We also noticed the reeds.  Here they are in September.  
Here they are in November.  In the beaver lodge photo they can be seen in the distance.  They have mellowed to a beautiful straw color.  

We went back to the area where we originally found the snail shells.  

Here is the same spot in November.  

The water level surely has risen.  We were still able to scurry over some logs and creep out onto the thin finger of shore to look for the snails.  I reminded the boys of the warmth of the water back in September.  It was like bath water.  I had each of the boys reach into the water to feel it.  They were astonished.....

because it was crystal clear ice! 

We did find some snail shells, near the same spot we had found the inhabited ones last time.  

Our biggest shock was when we turned around to explore the other side of the shore.  

We found a dead goose. 

Here are the bones.  

We discussed what may have happened to the bird.  Some of the ideas were that a fox must have gotten it or that it was old and died.  We continued down the path.  I realized that we didn't gather any feathers for our science table.  I went back to collect some.  When I was poking around the body I recognized the culprit.  

We discussed at length the dangers of balloons for birds.  It made quite the impression on the boys.  I don't think they will ever want to release balloons again.  

Back at our house we placed all of our treasures on a plate and completed our notebook pages. 

Here are our final results.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Autumn Series #9: Pine Cones

Outdoor Hour button

One of my earliest memories is a smell.  It is earthy and astringent.  Fallen pine needles warmed by the afternoon sun transports me to another time and place.  Both of my childhood homes were nestled in areas that were surrounded by White Pines.  As a toddler I remember collecting pine cones in the woods for the wreathes that my mother so expertly made.  Later, I recollect playing in the local park amongst the towering pines, pretending that a cluster was my special fort.  The pine cones represented the food or gold depending upon my whim.  In my neighborhood all the children congregated in the pine forest jockeying bicycles down the intricate network of logging trails and cow paths that wove through the area.  One trail littered with roots and pine cones meandered down a hill.  We each felt as if we deserved a badge of honor if we were able to stay upright on the entire descent.  

When my husband and I purchased our farm house, one of the main drawbacks to me was that it was surrounded by deciduous forest instead of mixed or pine.  As I began this study with my children, I realized that their olfactory memories will be created with backdrop of horse and dairy farms.  The sweet smell of manure. is an acquired taste shall we say.  For this study,  I was excited to get back to my old stomping grounds with the boys.  I wanted them to experience the environment of simple clean "piney woods."   

Our study began with a call to my trusty mother.  She is a pine cone expert.  She know all the best locations in our area to find these treasures of the forest.  For years she created pine cone wreath masterpieces.  I am really not exaggerating....they were beautiful.   We piled into the car with her to hit the pine cone hotspots.  Unfortunately, that wonderful warm pine scent was not our experience that day.  It was pouring which slowly turned to sleet and then snow.  Regardless of the weather, we pressed forward in our study.  

Our first stop was in a predominately Eastern White Pine forest. 

We quickly picked up a few pine cones and needles for the collection.  

I was surprised that the cones were not more closed up as the weather was so raw.  This summer our area had a bit of a dry spell compared to our typical "temperate rainforest" weather, so the pine cones may have been reflective of those conditions.  

Our second stop put us at the foot of West Mountain.  We found a cluster of Red Pine trees next to an old sugar shack that belonged to my childhood best friend's family.  (You may recognize the trees TLC.)

We again scampered around to collect samples of cones and needles.  

On the same property we gathered some pieces of cedar and some of their small cones.    
The weather was so bad we made our way back home, thankful that we were able to collect what we had.  Our science table already had a nice collection of pine cones, so this was just enough of an "hour" outside.  

Back in our warm kitchen, we selected the most closed up pine cones for a bit of an experiment.  We laid out our choices on some tinfoil and set the oven to 200 degrees.

When the oven was up to temperature we placed the cones into the warm oven to convince them that they were laying on the forest floor on a hot summer day.  Ahhhh! The kitchen was filled with my favorite smell.   After about an hour this is what we saw.  


They were convinced.  

We took the rest of our collection and completed several activities with them.  First I had the boys identify each of the cones with their homemade field guides.   

We completed the notebook page from Barb.  The boys traced an Eastern White Pine cone and colored it in.  They counted the needles and drew them.  They were amazed that each had five needles per fascicle.  We sketched the scale and found 55 on our cone.

On another morning we took our collection and sorted them from smallest to largest.  A few of the cones had to be measured with a tape to assure their correct location on the chart.  The boys are always anxious to use tools!

Finally we made some peanut butter pine cones laden with black sunflower seeds for our bird feeder.  It was a messy project, but the boys and birds really appreciated it.
Overall a fun study that really brought me back to that wonderful connection I felt to the woods as a child.