Posts tagged ‘nature’

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.

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.

May 1, 2014

Spring Discoveries at Ft. Yargo

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 30, 2014.

This is a beautiful time of year for walking in the woods, and last week we had an especially fun hike at Ft. Yargo State Park. Besides the weather being perfect, we discovered wildlife, blooming flowers and a new trail.

After studying the map of Ft. Yargo, I have learned that one of the trails we walked on is not on it. Right across the big bridge, the Lake Loop Trail splits and if you head right, it’s not marked on the map, but there is a clear trail with yellow blazes. At the end of it, we turned right and headed up a bike trail.

Now I have learned from the park’s website that hikers are discouraged on these bike trails because of the speed of some cyclists, but I’m glad we didn’t know hikers were discouraged from walking there because it ended up being a beautiful trail and parts of it were right along the lake. I guess it’s fortunate we went on a Monday, and I only remember passing one jogger and one cyclist going at a slower speed.

It’s on the west side of park and passes through an area called Deadwood Hill. It was named so because many of the trees in this area are dying due to disease and lightning, but everything we saw was still quite pretty.

The dogwoods were blooming, looking like points of white light peeking out from between new spring green leaves. There were pink and white flowering bushes right along the edge of the lake, and when I got closer, I could see they looked like a kind of honeysuckle.

I only had my son’s point and shoot on this walk, but at least I was able to capture one turtle before he escaped into the water!

We have never seen so many turtles before in one place. There was one fallen tree in the water with eleven turtles lined up on it, and as we got closer, all but one brave little turtle plopped into the water. We found many other turtles along the way, but they were too far away to identify. I’m guessing some of them were yellow-bellied pond sliders, though.

Several geese live around Ft. Yargo. On another hike a few weeks ago we found a nesting goose near the dam, and on this particular walk we heard some fierce squabbling from two geese that were either mating or protecting a nest.

We spied a bright red wild honeysuckle, which I also have growing wild in my backyard. We found where the fish were hiding along the edge of the lake (those fisherman on the bridge said they weren’t catching many), and some kind of large wasps were making nests in the brambles on the edge of the water – not something I like to see at home but interesting enough to watch with little boys on a trail.

I also found a fern growing in the underbrush that is new to me. From my search on the web, I think it is a Woodwardia areolata or Netted chainfern. If I’m right, it grows all along the eastern U.S. and as far west as Oklahoma and Texas.

It is fun to return again and again to a favorite park or trail and watch the seasonal changes. Over the past few years we have seen other wildlife at the park such as a great blue heron, and once we heard wild turkeys gobbling at some distance in the woods. I’m sure if we could get ourselves out of bed at an earlier hour, we might get lucky to find the more elusive animals, but for now we’re content to find deer tracks on our afternoon hikes. And despite how common they are, I’m still thrilled every time I catch sight of a red cardinal or a flash of blue from that bossy blue jay.

March 13, 2014

Winter Siestas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 12, 2014.

I love Georgia winters because the weather here always offers us a few “siestas” or breaks in the cold weather. This winter has been especially cold, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting a few days of spring-like weather sprinkled here and there. I have even seen some trees blooming.

The blooms I’ve found always give me mixed emotions because I know a freeze may come and mess up the blooming cycle, but every spring Georgia seems to have plenty of beautiful blooms anyway. I can’t wait until the warm weather is here to stay, but I’m glad we’ve been taking advantage of the warm days in winter.

The boys are finally old enough to enjoy longer hikes, at least when the terrain isn’t too rugged. We usually go to Fort Yargo, and recently we were happy to discover that there is a trail that goes all the way around the lake – years ago when my husband and I hiked there while we were dating, the trail didn’t go all the way around.

We haven’t yet hiked the whole trail in one visit, but we’ve done parts of it, and my seven-year-old really wanted to see the dam, so we walked all the way from the parking lot near the beach to the dam and back. Ft. Yargo is a beautiful place, and if you live here in Barrow County, you’ll want to visit as often as you can.

Last week we went to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, which has several miles of trails too. My boys love to hike on the trail that goes along the Middle Oconee River the best. Sometimes the river is high, but occasionally it’ll be low enough where they can venture down to a large sandbar and play by the water.

As soon as they saw the sandbar last week, there was no keeping them on the trail. My husband and I found a log to sit on, and we watched our boys build a “beaver dam” with driftwood and mud. Two little girls and their mother came out onto the sandy area, and we were delighted to watch our four-year-old chatter away with one of the girls who joined my boys in their pursuit to build a strong dam.

We were too far away to hear what our youngest son was saying, but later my seven-year-old told me that he was telling the girl what his favorite foods were, among other things. I guess for a four-year-old, there are only a few topics of conversation!

As for the cold days, they are perfect days to get more work done. More library books are read, math games are played, and of course, my son continues to work at this Legos and cardboard building projects. I recently introduced him to the game Minecraft, which is an app you can download on the iPad. It’s a popular game with kids, and it’s like building with blocks on the screen. He is hooked on that now too.

But I can’t wait until spring is here to stay. Park play dates, more hiking, and our annual attempts at gardening – while the gardening usually isn’t very fruitful, the attempts make me happy.

These hints of spring are full of promises. The birds are inspecting the birdhouses on our porch, and I’ve heard the frogs begin to sing. The budding plants and occasional warm days are just what I need to get me through the weeks of cold.  May the true spring come quickly this year, and may it fill us all with a fresh, cheerful spirit!

December 3, 2013

Find Me Elsewhere Today

I’m very honored to have some of my photographs from a nature walk featured on the wonderful, new nature blog, Mud Puddles to Meteors. I hope you’ll pop over there and take a look.  Click here to see my photos on Mud Puddles to Meteors.

In addition to this, a short article I wrote along with some of my photographs of the William Harris Homestead has been published in Atlanta Homeschool magazine. Check out page 22.  This is an awesome magazine that homeschoolers anywhere and non-homeschooling locals can get something out of. I’m honored to be part of it.

May 23, 2013

Garden Inheritance

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 22, 2013.

When I was a young girl I came to Georgia to visit my grandmother who lived in Athens. She kept a little red watering can just for me because I loved to help her water her plants. She lived in an apartment, but it had a courtyard where she grew flowers. Red geraniums were her favorite.

I used to love walking with her to Charmar nursery where I was enchanted with the rows and rows of plants inside the long greenhouse. Once she bought a little green fern for me, and I took it home on the airplane.

When we lived in Colorado, our house had a sunroom, and my mother filled it with Scheffleras, spider plants and jades.  I remember watching my father tend the garden that ran along the back fence. In my childhood memory that garden was very big, but it was probably just a modest house garden.

During my year in Japan, I had a very tiny apartment, but it had a small balcony, so it seemed natural to follow in my mother and grandmother’s footsteps and fill it with greenery. It was the least I could do to improve the view of the parking lot.

Now my children have inherited this love of plants and gardening. My six-year-old saves the seeds from his mandarins and apples and wants to plant them to see if they’ll grow. He found a half-sprouted acorn in the yard, so now we have a hardwood tree growing in a pot despite the fact that we have more than enough growing in our yard.

Every night he faithfully waters our garden where we planted green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a few herbs. He likes watering our flowers in the front yard too, but I always offer to help because I don’t want it to become a chore for him.

My three-year-old loves to water and plant too.  One afternoon he carried seeds around from some plant found in the woods. His grubby little hands offered them to me, and they ended up in the cup holder of my chair. He, too, has an acorn growing in a pot, thanks to the help of his older brother.

A friend of mine owns a landscaping business, and she taught my son how take a cutting from the butterfly bush. Cut off one of the new shoots, strip the bottom leaves and cut the top leaves in half. Put the remaining part into a small pot with some seed starter mix, keep it moist and in a sunny spot.  Now my son is pulling the new leaves off the bush to try it himself. Come here in a few years, and you’ll probably find our yard full of purple butterfly bushes.

I’m making no attempts to stop my budding gardeners even though a landscaper might cringe at our attempts to grow full-sun plants in the shade or crowd the flowers together. My education in gardening has been through trial and error, and my sons are following in my footsteps.

Whenever I watch my three-year-old stoop over to water a pot with his blue watering tin, I think about the little red one I had at my grandmother’s. I think she would be pleased that I’m still outside planting, watering, and growing seeds. Someday I’ll have to take my boys on a trip to a big greenhouse too.

May 9, 2013

Raising Butterflies

Scroll down for a slideshow of our butterfly’s life cycle!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 8, 2013.

Last year we raised toads from tadpoles, and this year we’re raising butterflies. This is surprisingly easy to do, and I’d encourage any family to give it a try.  It’s a wonderful experience for children and adults.

My sons received the Backyard Safari Butterfly Habitat as a Christmas present, but you can find other companies who sell butterfly habitats and the larvae online. The cages are around $15. The Backyard Safari Habitat came with a coupon so that we could order the larvae when we were ready for them. You need to wait for warm weather, if you plan to release the butterflies. (The larvae were approximately $10 with the coupon, but they are under $20 without it.)

We received six Painted Lady larvae (or caterpillars) in a small container with everything they needed to survive during this second stage of their life cycle. There were explicit instructions to not open the container. All we needed to do was set the container by a window (but not in direct sunlight). Note: I have read different opinions about leaving them in the container, so I suggest you do some of your own research.

Painted Lady Butterflies live almost everywhere, which is why they are often used in schools and homes for this purpose. In most places it’s okay to release them back into the environment. Another option is to find butterfly larvae in your local area and raise them, but each species has different needs, so you have to make sure you have the right food source.

We watched our caterpillars for less than two weeks as they stirred up the food, spun silk, and proved to be extremely bad housekeepers. When we got them, they were less than a centimeter in length, and in two days, they doubled their size. Right before they formed themselves into a chrysalis (or pupa), they were about an inch long and quite plump.

After the butterflies emerged, my son turned this into a project by making a model of the Painted Lady Butterfly! He studied it like a real artist!

According to the instructions I received, the caterpillars were supposed to climb to the top of the vial and attach themselves to the gauze that was placed under the lid of the container. There they would hang down and form into chrysalides, and then we weren’t allowed to disturb the container for two days. After that time, we could carefully remove the lid, and then pin the gauze with the chrysalides near the bottom and on the wall of the cage.

This is what really happened: The caterpillars made a huge mess in the container, and we couldn’t see through it very well. All of the caterpillars crawled to the top, but most of them didn’t stay there. In the end, there were only two caterpillars that formed chrysalides and hung from the top. We could barely make out one chrysalis on the bottom, and since there wasn’t any movement, I assumed the others down there were changing too.

Per the instructions, we waited two full days after the last caterpillar we could see formed his chrysalis. Finally we got out the butterfly cage, and found a small branch that fit nicely into it. Then I removed the lid to the container, and we discovered that the caterpillars had eaten most of the gauze! The two chrysalides were hanging from silk and the plastic lid. Luckily I managed to fit it over the twigs in the cage so that they hung down safely.

I had to scoop out the four other chrysalides from the bottom of the container with a spoon, and I laid them gently on the bottom of our cage. We had read that this can happen, and they should be okay, but unfortunately, two of these never formed into butterflies. We weren’t surprised.

After only five days, two of our butterflies emerged!  Two more butterflies emerged in the next few days.  They are beautiful, small orange and black butterflies, and we’re feeding them watermelon and oranges.

The whole process has enamored my six-year-old, and he wants to keep going, so we’re going to attempt to raise a second generation. Yep, call me crazy. If it turns into a good story, and I’m pretty sure it will, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Note: Yes, indeed, it’s turning into a story, and I will share it with you!

Below is a slideshow I created to show you our experience, and you can see the life cycle here too!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Notes you may be interested in:

  • The butterfly’s life cycle is in four stages: egg, larvae (or caterpillar), chrysalis, adult butterfly.  (I highly recommend the simple app Life Cycles by nthfusion.com to help with learning about nature’s cycles!)
  • The plural for chrysalis can be either chrysalides or chrysalises. (You can go here to hear the pronunciations.)
  • The word eclose is a verb which means to emerge from the pupa as an adult or from an egg as a larvae.
  • The red liquid that drips out off the butterfly after it emerges is meconium or the waste that was secreted while it was in chrysalis.
  • After the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it can live for about two weeks. During that time, they seek a mate, and the female seeks a host plant to lay her eggs.

If you like this, you might enjoy the slideshow I made of our tadpoles to toads last year.

Have you raised butterflies? Please share your experience!

March 22, 2013

Amicalola Falls State Park

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 20, 2013.

Earlier this year on one of those warm winter days, we made the spontaneous decision to take the boys to Amicalola Falls State Park, which is less than a two-hour drive northwest from Winder. When we got there, we weren’t quite sure where to go, and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves starting our hike at the base of the falls, going up.

If you’ve never been there before, you may not know that Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall in the southeast. True to its name, which means “tumbling waters” in the Cherokee Indian language, it’s a beautiful series of falls tumbling down 729 feet of rock.

There’s a footpath and stairs that take you to the top of the falls, and a bridge crosses right in front of the falls about mid-way. The views are amazing.

A few years ago I wouldn’t have hesitated to climb the 600 steps to the top of the falls, but now I was with my family, which included a six-year-old and three-year-old. I was remembering the last time we were out for an easy hike at Hard Labor Creek and how the three-year-old graced us with a temper tantrum at the beginning of that excursion because I didn’t pack the right snack.

At Amicalola, we were not the only ones who took advantage of the weather that day, so there were quite a few people taking the trek alongside us. I didn’t want a temper tantrum, and I didn’t want either my husband or me to have to carry a 37-pound three-year-old up those steps.

In the back of my mind, I wondered if I could make it up those steps too. During these past few years of child rearing, I have not been the healthiest eater, and I have little time for exercise that doesn’t include my little tag-alongs.

We easily hiked up the 175 steps to the bridge in front of the falls. The boys were on their best behavior, and they enjoyed the views. But my husband and I planned to go back down at that point.

The kids had a different opinion. They were determined to go to the top, and we couldn’t persuade them otherwise. After a few threats such as “if I have to carry you, I’m going to get really, really mad,” etc., we conceded and happily undertook the challenge. Secretly, I didn’t want to stop either.

We all felt like we accomplished something when we finished those last 425 steps without a problem. On the way down, we took another route through the woods, and we must have spent over 2~3 hours hiking that day. I was especially proud of the three-year-old who had no problem keeping up.

Our hike that day could be a metaphor for parenting. Though it’s a non-stop, daily challenge to raise small children, just when you think you can’t go anymore, your children surprise you. They show you just how far you can go, how fun life is and how resilient a family can be when working together to accomplish something.

If you’re interested in seeing Amicalola Falls, but you aren’t interested in climbing 600 steps, you’ll be happy to know that you can drive and take a short walk to where the platform is mid-way up, or you can drive to the top of the falls.  The top is where the Amicalola Falls Lodge is located, and it has a nice restaurant and beautiful views.

Also nearby is the access trail to the Appalachian Trail, and you can also hike up to the Len Foote Hike Inn, which is a wonderful overnight experience that I did many years ago, though you need to make reservations well in advance for that. You can learn about all of this and more at http://gastateparks.org/AmicalolaFalls.

What are your favorite family excursion memories?

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