Posts tagged ‘nature’

April 10, 2015

My New Favorite Bird

This photo is courtesy of katieb50 via a creative commons license.

This photo is courtesy of katieb50 via a creative commons license.

Note: This column appeared in the April 8, 2015 issue of the Barrow Journal.

I am adding a new bird to my list of favorites, and it may seem a strange choice to you. Most people don’t list “crow” as one of their favorite birds. Up until now, my favorites have been a toss up between cardinal, bluebird, owl, egret or blue heron. I mean, really, it’s hard to pick a favorite bird when they are all so magnificent, isn’t it?

But recently my family watched a PBS Nature documentary titled “A Murder of Crows.” A group of crows is called a “murder” probably because of old folklore that associated crows with death. Crows are scavengers, like ravens, and both these blackbirds have had a bad rap. Actually, they are both extremely intelligent and may be some of the smartest animals on earth. But ravens don’t live around here, so I’m going to stick to crows for this column.

Scientists are studying crows and learning quite a bit about them. I was impressed to watch one experiment when a researcher put a piece of food out of reach from a crow, but he left a tool nearby that the bird could use to retrieve it, if he could figure out how to use it. However, the crow had to use another tool in order to reach the tool that would get the food. The bird used both the tools and got the food easily.

That was impressive by itself, but then the researcher gave the crow an additional challenge. He tied the first stick to a rope and hung it down from a perch that the crow sat on. This way, the crow had three steps he had to take to get the food. He had to pull the string up with his beak and retrieve the first tool, use it to get the second tool, and then use the second tool to get the food. The researcher hypothesized that the crow wouldn’t be able to do that. But the crow did it! This is more impressive when you consider that even chimpanzees can’t do this three-step process.

Observations have also revealed that a crow’s social structure is similar to humans. They mate for life, and families live in close proximity, continuing to help each other throughout their lives. A baby crow might stay with its parents for up to five years and even help raise its younger siblings. (Most birds are on their own as soon as they leave the nest.)

Crows can congregate in roosts with thousands of other crows, especially when they find food such as a cornfield (farmers will not like crows), but individual crows will come and go from their parent’s nest. Some may travel far and visit occasionally. Others may stay and live nearby.

Another interesting part of the documentary was the research done on how crows can recognize and remember human faces. If a human or other animal has threatened or hurt them, they will use the same distress call each time they see them to alert other crows in the area.

Scientists in the documentary conducted extensive experiments to show that parents of crows may even pass on knowledge of dangerous people to their children, and the children will use the same distress call when they see the threatening person, even after leaving their parent’s nest.

I don’t know about you, but learning about crows has elevated them in my mind. We see them all the time in our neighborhood, but I took them for granted. They weren’t as interesting to me as the beautiful songbirds, but now when I see a pair poking around my yard for some food, I’m fascinated. These intelligent birds have earned my respect.

February 12, 2015

Nature Watch: Crazy Abundance of Mushrooms

As a follow-up to my son’s mushroom project, I thought I would share what we found below our deck around a tree stump at just about the same time we were growing shiitake mushrooms. We get a lot of cool mushrooms in our yard, especially in the spring and fall when it’s rainy, but we’ve never seen so many mushrooms as this. It was quite a sight. We have no idea what kind of mushrooms these were. If you have any idea, I’d love to know.

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?

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!

 

 

June 26, 2014

Nature Watch: False Potato Beetle

I think this is a false potato beetle (Leptinotarsa juncta) thanks to this post on Rob’s plants. Scroll down a bit and you’ll see a photo of its larvae that he found in his garden.

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.

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