Archive for ‘Nature’

September 30, 2014

Nature Watch: Fowler’s Toad

We feel very lucky to get a lot of toads in our yard, and we see these fowler toads quite often. My eight-year-old doesn’t hesitate to catch them, but I’ve taught him to be very gentle, and since he loves animals, he doesn’t want to hurt them.

Nevertheless, he learned a good lesson when he turned the poor toad over to look at its belly. As a defense, some small animals will pee on predators, and sure enough, that toad peed on my son, and it worked! My son let him go right away after that!

What backyard discoveries have you made lately?

September 25, 2014

Nature Watch: Praying Mantis

One thing I love about homeschooling is the ability to cut our lessons short and let my kids explore the yard, especially when I feel like they’re getting more learning out of that than they could any other way.  The other day I did just that, and it was lucky I did. Look what my eight-year-old found. There were actually two beautiful praying mantises in the yard that day. This is one of them.

My son watched it a long time. Finally he did a little experiment without me knowing! He dangled a daddy longlegs in front of the praying mantis, and he watched it lunge for it and then eat it!

Poor daddy longlegs. Lucky praying mantis.

September 13, 2014

Nature Watch: Luna Moth

A few weeks ago we had a very exciting visitor in our garden! This was serendipitous because my eight-year-old has recently become enamored with moths — ever since we found that polyphemus moth in our yard! I spotted this incredible luna moth on our corn, and I was literally speechless! My son only knew something was going on because of my loud gasps for air and where I was looking! lol

What backyard discoveries have you made?

September 4, 2014

Anniversary in Blairsville

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on August 13, 2014. Our anniversary was in July. Yep, I’m that far behind.

Somehow, my 10th wedding anniversary snuck up on me. My husband and I are both looking at each other and saying, “10 years?” It’s gone so fast, yet in other ways, it seems like it’s been much longer. Though we’ve had our ups and downs, I’m thankful I married him, and I feel lucky to say that.

My husband says our boys are getting older, and it’s time to make some memories. So at the last minute, we decided to go on a short trip to the mountains to celebrate our 10th year.

We found a sweet cabin near Blairsville, which is only two hours away, but neither of us had been to that town before. It’s small but big enough to have everything you need, and it’s a great central location for exploring the sites and trails of the mountains.

Our first stop was Brasstown Bald. If you have never been there, you have to go. It’s the highest mountain in Georgia at 4,784 feet above sea level. From the observation deck, you have a 360-degree stunning view of four states: Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. You can see part of the Smoky Mountains from there.

view from observation deck and Brasstown Bald

There’s a short .06 mile paved trail from the parking lot, but it feels much longer going up because it’s very steep. If you can do it, it’s a beautiful trail with lovely foliage. For those who can’t handle the trail, there’s a shuttle that will take people to the top, and there are elevators to the top of the observation deck. There’s also a very nice museum at the top. It’s a federal site, and the cost to enter is $5 per person 16 years and older.

Vogel State Park

We all wanted to see some waterfalls, so our first stop was at Vogel State Park to see Trahlyta Falls. While the park is located in a gorgeous setting with a small, pretty lake, we were not impressed with it. It was too crowded, and the infrastructure needs to be updated. It’s one of Georgia’s oldest and smallest state parks. It is a good base for those going on some of the longer hikes though.

Trahlyta Falls

I read online about a longer but easy trail I wanted to take with the boys, but once we got to the park, there were no signs pointing us to the trailhead, and the map didn’t help – at least for this impatient family. So we took a short trail around the lake and down a path to the falls. Trahlyta Falls, which you can actually see from the highway, was not a disappointment. Really, how could any waterfall be disappointing?

Helton Creek Falls

We also went hunting for Helton Creek Falls, and we finally found it, although we got a little worried along the way. There is one sign on Highway 129 directing you to turn onto Helton Creek Road, which will take you to the falls. This is a narrow road through a heavily wooded, residential area, and once the neighborhood ends, it becomes a windy dirt road that seems to have no end in sight. At one point, it forks, and there’s no sign, but if you go, stay on your right, and you’ll finally find a sign and parking area for the falls.

The first falls you come to at Helton Creek.

Counting tree rings.

There’s a short, easy trail down to the falls, and you’ll actually find two falls. Keep going after the first one because the second one is bigger – about a fifty-foot vertical drop. The trail and both falls are stunning and worth the hassle of finding the place. We found lots of salamanders here! This was my favorite place we went during our brief stay in the mountains.

Can you find the salamander?

Since we were so close to Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site, we thought it would be fun checking it out too. Creek and Cherokee people from at least 1,000 years ago but possibly as far back as 3,600 years ago carved art and symbols into these boulders that you can view a short distance from the road.

There are over a 100 carvings in these rocks, but most of it was very difficult for us to see. Still, it was worth going because according to the Forest Service’s website, “It’s one of the most significant rock art sites in the Southeastern United States and the only such site located on public land in Georgia.” If you go, I suggest reading about it online first so that you’ll understand what you are looking at.

I thought we would do more hiking while we were in the mountains, but I learned quickly that the steep trails are much more difficult for my boys’ little legs than the flat trails at Ft. Yargo. Since it’s so close to home, however, we know we’ll be able to take many more trips back there and collect even more good memories.

We found this luna moth at Vogel State Park. A nice bonus.

August 1, 2014

Nature Watch: Botany Bay Plantation, Edisto Island, SC

Botany Bay Plantation was private land until 2008 when it was acquired by the South Carolina Budget and Control Board.  They have a cooperative partnership with The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, who manages this property. Now it’s a preserve and wildlife management area, so no one is allowed to remove anything from the land, including shells. As a result, the beach area is full of large, beautiful shells that people have collected and placed on all the beautiful dead trees. It’s really amazing to see. Botany Bay has 3,363 acres, and there’s a beautiful driving tour that will take you by the ruins of some old plantations.

The pelicans flew so close to the tips of the trees.

The road in and out of Botany Bay Plantation.

July 29, 2014

Nature Watch: Wildlife on Edisto Island

In May we took a trip to Edisto Island, SC, and I’m just now getting around to sharing some of my wildlife photos with you from that trip. I have so many, I will be dividing them into two posts. I don’t have a long lens, so some of my photos are not very good, but you can see the fun we had viewing these amazing creatures!

horseshoe crab

We saw several pairs of horseshoe crabs mating.

This one had lots of barnacles on it.

We adored these tiny fiddler crabs with their one big arm. I spent a long time hunched over waiting for this little fellow to pop out of his hole!

I love the sea birds, but I don’t know all their names.

What ever kind of bird that is, it’s hunting the fiddler crabs.

It was always exciting to see the dolphins pop up out of the water!

There was also a pretty exciting lagoon right outside our condo.

This guy would just glide back and forth across that lagoon looking so cool and calm. He owned the place.

There were hundreds of turtles in the lagoon.

I almost stepped on this beautiful, glass lizard. Nope, it’s not a snake! We saw two while we were there.

I couldn’t get enough of the baby egret nests. There were three or four nests. We also saw green heron babies almost ready to fledge their nests.

We took the seven-year-old’s microscope, and on the last day I pulled it out! We looked at drops of water from the lagoon, and we saw lots of cool microscopic animals! How I wish I could take photos of them for you!

 

 

July 9, 2014

Nature Watch: Pickerel Frog

Guess what we found in our yard the other night? We are pretty sure this is a pickerel frog. At first my son thought this was a leopard frog, and we learned that pickerels and leopards are often confused with each other. If we could have seen some bright yellow under the hind legs, we would be able to say without a doubt that it’s the pickerel. If we ever spot it again, we’ll try to find out.

This was exciting for us because we see toads in our yard quite often, but not frogs. My four-year-old spotted it. He’s very good at that.

You can learn more about the pickerel and hear the sound it makes on the Savannah River Ecology Lab website.

June 23, 2014

Nature Watch: Polyphemus Moth & caterpillar

This is a beautiful Polyphemus moth that my seven-year-old found recently in our yard. It’s pretty rare to find a moth like this, so we were thrilled. It was sitting on the ground and almost got trampled by our dogs, so  we carefully picked it up and placed it into a container that we keep on our front porch for similar nature discoveries. We thought it was dying because it seemed weak and could not fly. It stayed that way for a long time, but the next day it flew away, so we think it may have just emerged from its cocoon and was gaining strength. We were happy to have given it a safe home for the night.

By coincidence, last September we had found a Polyphemus caterpillar, so this is why we knew what it was. They like to crawl way down into the leaf litter and spin their cocoon. If you see one late in the fall like we did, it will probably stay in its cocoon over the winter and emerge in the spring! Did you know that adult moths do not eat? They don’t even have a mouth! Their one mission is to find a mate and carry on life. They only live for about four days.

After my son found the Polyphemus moth, he has been interested in moths, and he studied drawings of them that we found in our nature center’s newsletter. He says he thinks they are even cooler than butterflies, and he may want to study snakes and moths when he grows up. He sketched one in his sketchbook too! I’m wondering if this might turn into a new project?

Note: We are lovers of nature, and I have accumulated many photographs of little discoveries we have made in our yard and on our hikes, so I thought I would dust some of those off and share them with you. Some of the wildlife may be unidentified, but I like to try to learn about what we find, so I’ll do my best to share what I learn with you. I hope you’ll share your knowledge about these discoveries with me too.

I’m happy to make this a new addition to my blog because I am no longer able to do some of things I used to do such as Worthy Reads and Inspire KidsSince beginning my work with the magazine, my time is more limited. (Truthfully, I need to shift the efforts I put into those categories to the magazine. I will share interesting stuff I find on the magazine’s social media and newsletter now.)  The newspaper has also cut my columns down to only two per month, so you’ll see less columns, but I still plan to journal about our homeschooling journey here. Thank you for reading!

June 14, 2014

Visiting Edisto Island Again

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 4, 2014.

About three weeks ago my family was lucky enough to spend a week on beautiful Edisto Island, South Carolina thanks to my aunt who gave us a week in her timeshare. Unfortunately, right before we went, my family was suffering from a virus, and the weather forecast predicted a whole week of thunderstorms.

What could we do but laugh at our situation? This was the very first time we were ever going away on vacation with just the four of us – we decided we’d have to make the best of it. As my husband said, he would rather be sick at the beach than sick at home.

Despite feeling a little poorly, we had a good time and the weather turned out to be beautiful most of the time. Everyone felt well enough to enjoy the beach and other sights.

It has become my great joy in life to discover all the treasures of this earth with my little boys. On our very first walk on the beach that first night we arrived, we found jellyfish, a little squid, beautiful shells and two pairs of horseshoe crabs mating. We watched as the female almost buried herself in the sand, no doubt depositing eggs that were being fertilized.

On other walks on the beach, my son found a large whelk, and in a tidal pool that was almost dried up, he found thousands of fiddler crabs. (Fiddler crabs are tiny and have one long arm and one short.) On the last day when he was out with his dad, they even found a small, dead shark washed up on the beach.

We saw dozens of dolphins breaching the water about 150 yards away from the shore. They seemed to be entertaining the family who were kayaking in the bay. I also took photos of a hermit crab creeping out of its shell onto my son’s hand just before he freaked out and dropped it into the water!

We collected dozens of shells – the picking was tremendous. We found more horseshoe crabs, fiddler crabs, pelicans, and countless other birds I can’t identify.

The beach wasn’t the only place we were able to watch wildlife. Right outside our condo, there was a lagoon surrounded by large, gnarly oaks and palms draped with Spanish moss. On a tiny island inside the lagoon, there were two snowy egret nests, and with binoculars, we could watch the parents feeding the babies. One nest had very young chicks that were gray and wiggly. Another nest had larger offspring whose feathers had already turned white. They practiced stretching their wings, but they still cried for their mother to feed them.

We observed several nests of green herons in the lagoon too. The offspring were big enough to start fending on their own, but they stayed close to mama and practiced hunting in the shallow water near their nests.

We also saw hundreds of turtles, fish, a magnificent blue heron and one small alligator. He remained hidden the first few days we were there, but then almost everyday we watched him from our window as he would glide down the center of the lagoon.

The last time I got to visit the beach was on our visit to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. It’s well worth a visit, and we hope to explore it more in depth someday. What is unique about this place is that it has only been open to the public since 2008, and no one is allowed to take anything from it, including shells. Because of this, we were able to find a beautiful collection of large unspoiled shells on the beach. The remains of dead trees that once grew along the shoreline were fascinating and wonderful to photograph too.

I especially enjoyed walking on the path through the marsh to get to the beach on Botany Bay, and we took a driving tour through the rest of the 3,363 acres, reading about the old plantations and viewing some of the ruins on the site.

We returned home a day early, but despite some little challenges this trip contained, we still collected a lot of good memories from it too. My family’s general health seems to be improving, and you know what they say: there’s no place like home.

Are you taking any trips this summer? Please tell me about it.

June 5, 2014

The Joy of Salamanders and Other Natural Things

I’m trying to remember when I first discovered that I’m a nature girl at heart. I’m lucky because my parents loved to travel and spend time in nature. We weren’t exactly roughing it because they owned a big RV, but we traveled through many national parks, and my dad loved boating, so I’ve spent time on different lakes and waterways.

I can remember taking long walks with my best friends during my late teens and early twenties. I loved being outside even if it meant walking along city streets. I always noticed the trees, flowers and birds. Whenever I traveled anywhere, I would seek out parks and other beautiful places. I’ve always loved hiking, and I have gravitated to friends who enjoy hiking too.

I met a friend in my late twenties who was a biologist, and she sparked a deep respect in me for the little critters of this earth. She loved frogs and snakes, and for a while she studied salamanders in the Smoky Mountains. I visited her once while she was doing some fieldwork. I thought she had an awesome job.

But I’m not sure I truly understood how much nature – and spending time in nature – meant to me until I became a mother of little boys. Seeing the world through their eyes makes me know on a deeper level how much all of this means to me.

Being in nature is something I crave, and I love learning more about it. Whether it’s learning how alligator moms carry their babies in their mouths or how to grow carnivorous plants, I find more joy in this – in making discoveries and feeling part of this mysterious and wondrous world – than anything else I’m part of. I am in awe of this planet and its place in the universe, and I believe that I’m very lucky to find joy in something so accessible to us all. I believe that finding joy in the simple process of observing and learning is what leads to lasting happiness.

On Mother’s Day, my family took me hiking in the North Georgia Mountains because they know that’s what I love most. First, we climbed the short trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. It’s a beautiful, paved path along Smith Creek, and on Mother’s Day, it was quite crowded, but we didn’t care. We were not there only to view the falls – we went to find the salamanders.

There’s a rocky, muddy wall along the path, and a natural spring drips down it constantly. Even in the coldest part of winter, the water there stays about fifty degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celcius). This is a perfect habitat for salamanders. They like to hide away in the rock crevices. We must have found a dozen of them.

While other tourists passed us by or lingered only for a few moments, we crowded around this wall for a long time (on the way up and on the way down). My seven-year-old said, “I could stay here forever!”

I was reminded of my old friend who studied salamanders, and I was reminded of all the times I’ve been hiking with family and friends, and the peaceful feeling that I get whenever I’m in the mountains, sitting by a gurgling stream. There’s no better place on earth, in my humble opinion.

I’m glad my son thought he could sit there by those salamanders forever. I hope that someday when he’s grown up and dealing with grown-up problems, he’ll remember the good times he had looking for salamanders by a mountain stream, and he’ll be able to go back there, seeking solace. A home for his heart.

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