Friday, March 30, 2012

The Noisy Season

March is the month for awakening – at least here in the northern hemisphere. This is the time of year when birdsong fills the air and peepers sing the night away.

It’s also a good time to go on a “listening walk”. Pull on your boots and make sure your ears are ready, then head outside to hear what there is to hear in the awakening spring.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Secret Lives of Great Blue Herons

Today the Cornell Lab of Ornithology put another live BirdCam online. This one peeks into the nest of Great Blue Herons. Folks at the Lab can see the nest from their staff lounge – and now, thanks to nest camera technology, we can too.

According to the Lab of O folks, the herons started building this nest in 2009. This year they returned to the nest in mid-March and soon began courting: bringing twigs, standing side by side in the nest, clattering their bills, and nipping at each other.

Last night at around 7:30 p.m., the heron laid her first egg. Great Blue Herons typically lay eggs every two days, sometimes three, until the clutch is complete. After that it will be 25–30 days before the chicks hatch, and they will spend another 7–8 weeks in the nest before they fledge.

To get good views of these large birds, the Lab of O installed two cameras, one from above the nest and the other at nest level. My BirdCam button links to the site where you'll find tabs for each nest. Soon there will be a whole egg carton full of nest cams to view. Have fun.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's View

Woodpeckers drumming in the woods,
one on the tin roof of a barn - 
avian love taps.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Another Good Book: For the Birds

For the Birds: the life of Roger Tory Peterson
Written by Peggy Thomas; illus. Laura Jacques
40 pages, for ages 8 & above
Calkins Creek, 2011

I knew I would love this book from the moment I opened the cover – immediately inside is a field description of a birder, complete with identifying markings, habitat and range notes and a clear description of its call. What a great way to introduce a biography of the guy who gave us the Peterson Guides.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what a bird or flower or tree or rock is, there’s a good chance you’ve grabbed a Peterson guidebook. The idea of organizing information so anyone can access it quickly – whether by flower color or the silhouette of a bird – that’s only one of Roger Tory Peterson’s gifts to us. He also helped develop a public conservation awareness that endures.

I asked author Peggy Thomas whose idea was it to start the book with a field entry for Roger T.

“Mine,” she said. “Peterson usually had an illustration of the topography of a bird in his field guides, and I loved the idea of turning that around so that it was the topography of a birder.  It really gives many of the facts about him in a tight little space.” She credits illustrator Laura Jacques for bringing her idea to life.

Thomas has always loved birds and remembers growing up with in a house where Peterson field guides lined the bookshelves. But it wasn’t until Peterson died that she realized he grew up in a towns just a couple hours from her home. Thomas was surprised to learn there were no children’s books about him, so she started digging around.

“I was particularly drawn to his sense of adventure and passion for birds when he was a child,” she said. “He recorded every bird he ever saw in a notebook, noting where he saw it, when he saw it and what the bird was doing.” As she writes in her book, these early notebooks grew into the first field guide for amateur bird watchers – and during wartime, when money for books was scarce.

“I like true stories of people who pursue their passions and succeed,” Thomas said. “I hope kids get a sense of that and feel they can do the same.”   

Thomas did a lot of research, spending days at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute if Natural History in Jamestown, NY. She dug through boxes and boxes of archived materials, sometimes pulling out a bird sketch Roger made as a youngster. She read journal entries, letters he wrote to his family, and doodles in his biology notebook from school.

Thomas also got to see a study specimen of a flicker – the bird that inspired Peterson to spend his life with birds.

When I asked Thomas what cool new thing she learned while working on her book, I expected it to be a fact about birds. Instead, it was how Roger used his stylized black bird silhouette technique – the simple shapes that help people identify what group a bird belongs to –  for creating plane-spotting guides for Army in WWII.

“The plane silhouettes were printed in Life magazine for the public too,” Thomas said. “He had a much greater impact on American culture than I ever thought.”  Indeed – Thomas found a way to incorporate those iconic bird silhouettes in her book, too.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Today's post is part of STEM Friday, a weekly round-up of children’s science, engineering, math and technology books.

 On Monday I'll be part of the Nonfiction Monday roundup over at Booktalking

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Peek into a Red Tail Hawk Nest

If you've ever wondered what goes on in a hawk nest, now's your chance to find out. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has posted a live video feed from one of their nest cameras and you can watch a red-tailed hawk nest 24/7 if you want. Find it here [if that doesn't work, paste this link into your browser: ]

Apparently you can also watch the hawk nest from mobile devices such as smart phones and iPads. And CLO says they'll have a "full-featured BirdCams site" launching in late April with more species including Osprey, Black Vulture and Great Horned Owl. How cool is that! For more information, or if you have questions, contact Cornell Lab of O at <>

As soon as I can, I'll post a button on the side so you can check in throughout the spring. And come back Friday for more bird-talk on STEM Friday.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday's View

yesterday the first forsythia flower opened
the night air was filled with a symphony of peeper calls
today the calendar catches up
it's spring.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spring is Bursting Out

In some places tree buds have already opened to reveal new flowers and leaves. If it’s not quite spring where you live, you can bring some buds inside and encourage them to bloom early.

On a warmish day, head outside with a pair of sharp pruning shears. Look for swollen, plump buds. Cut the branches at an angle and long enough that they can be put into a jar of water.

To make sure your branches don’t dry out, try smashing the bottoms gently to make it easier for the branches to take up water. For the first week or so, keep your branches in a cool location out of direct sunlight. Cover the branches loosely with a plastic bag or spray them with a water mist to keep them from drying out. When the water gets cloudy, fill the jar with fresh water.

After a few days move your branches into a sunny window. After a few weeks you should see your buds blooming.

For the best success try these trees and shrubs: azalea, crab apple, forsythia, magnolia, pussy willow, redbud, rhododendron, serviceberry, witch hazel, cherries, pears and apples.

You can help scientists keep track of when plants bloom by becoming a Project BudBurst buddy. Find out more here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Celebrate Pi Day

Today is an excuse to play with math. After all, it’s Pi day – or at least as close as our calendar can approximate it: 3/14. 

That's because we don't have any dates that begin 3.14159265358979323846264 and just keep going and never end. That's what pi does. If you want to see the first million digits, go here 

Pi is a perfect number to contemplate on this blog because back in 250 BC my hero, Archimedes worked out that the value of pi is greater than 223/71 but less than 22/7. He did this by approximating the area of a circle using the area of a regular polygon inscribed within the circle and the area of a polygon within which the circle was circumscribed. He started with a hexagon and worked his way up to a 96-sided polygon, getting really close to the approximation of pi.

So – what do people do on Pi day? They make pies - all kinds: apple, cherry, blueberry or pepperoni, sausage, extra cheese. Or all of them.

They calculate pi. You can do this too - just grab a pie and measure its circumference (around the edge) in centimeters. Then divide that number by the diameter and you've got pie pi.

They might make pi-dyed T-shirts, speak pi-thon or scribble poetic lines of pi-ku. Like like haiku, it's composed with three lines: 5 syllables/ 7 syllables/ 5 syllables.
            Preheat, roll the dough
            Add sauce and cheese and garlic
            Pi are round not square

Speaking of Pie and Poetry, here’s a new book to check out. The first poem, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Apple Pie” wants to know how many cuts give 10 pieces. And though there is no pi for Poe, you might want to bake an extra pie to test your answers. Regardless of what the answer key says, you can indeed use four cuts for 10 pieces – if you don’t care about divvying up your pie equally.

The poems make you think about math outside the the pie tin. I particularly like “Robert Frosts’s Boxer Shorts”, inspired by “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “William Carlos Williams’s Pizza” which – like certain plums – was just too inviting to resist.

Edgar Allan Poe's Pie is by children’s poet laureate and pie-eater, J. Patrick Lewis,and illustrated by Michael Slack. It's got 14 poems, each a reimagined classic poem spiced up with math, and should be on bookstore shelves by beginning of April. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (review copy from publisher).

If you’re still up for a slice of pi - and who isn't - drop by Vi Hart’s video on why “Pi is (still) wrong”
To find out what pi sounds like, check this out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012


 Bark protects trees by acting as a waterproof layer - it helps prevent the loss of water through evaporation. Bark also creates a shield, or barrier, against insects that would like to eat the inner bark and other woody layers. And, like your winter coat, the layer of bark helps insulate the tree from dramatic temperature changes.

Each kind of tree has its very own pattern of bark. It might look similar to another species, but when you take a close look you will see that each tree is as unique as the members of your family.

The first thing you notice about tree bark is its texture: is it rough or is it smooth? If it’s rough, look closer to see whether it has deep furrows, platy scales, or long shaggy strips peeling off.

Find two different types of trees in your backyard or a local park. How is the bark of one tree different from the other? See how many differences you can list.

You can make a “bark collection” without hurting trees – just make bark rubbings or take photos of tree bark. To make a rubbing, hold a white piece of white paper against the tree trunk so that it won’t move. Then rub over the paper with the side of a crayon. Make sure you write the date and location of where you found the tree so you can find it again when it has leaves.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday's View

You have to get up early - and look quick- to see snow!
But don't let the sunshine fool you;
it's still winter.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wisdom the Albatross - A Blog Tour

Today I'm helping to kick off a blog tour for Darci Pattison's newest book: Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years.

Albatrosses are among the largest of flying birds, with wingspans up to 11 feet. When they eventually reach breeding age, females lay a single egg each year. And they live a long time. Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, is thought to be about 60 years old.

32 pages, ages 8 and up
Mims House, 2012
Over her lifetime Wisdom has survived tropical storms, predators, hurricanes, fishing, pollution and yearly migrations. Most recently she – and her chick – managed to survive the tsunami that washed across her rookery following last year’s devastating earthquake that hit Japan.

While Darcy Pattison was drawn to Wisdom’s story of survival, artist Kitty Harvill was drawn to her story because it highlights the need for conservation – of the 21 species of albatross, 19 are threatened with extinction. Or maybe it was the fact that when she saw the close-up photos of the albatross that she eventually painted as the cover, she fell in love with the bird.

Harvill is a painter. She uses oils and sometimes adds paper collage to her work. She also loves watercolors – and that’s what she used to paint the illustrations for Wisdom. She usually takes her own photos to serve as models for her paintings, but this project didn’t provide the opportunity for her to travel to Wisdom’s Midway Island rookery. So Harvill relied on photos from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Harvill’s brushwork brings albatross chicks to life, and her artistic skill gives each bird personality and expression that you might not expect in a sea bird. I particularly love the expression on Wisdom’s face as she studies the steel band that a scientist fastened around her leg. I asked Harvill how she captures such details.

“I’ve spent a good deal of time watching and sketching birds, and I’ve made several trips to the Bird Park at Iguassu Falls in Brazil,” she said. “I think the expressions must come from my attitude about the birds and all wildlife for that matter...that we are all connected, that each creature has as much right to be on this planet as we do, and that we are all involved in an intricate web of life. I truly love them as a family member on the planet that we share.”

That love infuses her paintings and brings them to life.

Harvill hopes her art will “wake people up” to environmental problems. One of those problems is plastic trash that floats into the ocean where it can strangle birds or get eaten. “The problem for albatrosses,” says Harvill, “ is that the parents unknowingly regurgitate the plastic they’ve eaten at sea into their chicks. Every year hundreds of chicks die because they are so full of plastic they literally starve to death.”  Fisherman can flag their longlines and hooks, but it’s going to take each one of us to reduce the plastic pollution. “We can be careful about what we buy and reuse and recycle,” Harvill says.
You can learn lots more about Wisdom and other albatrosses at Darcy’s “Wisdom” website where you’ll find videos, photos and some information about earthquakes and tsunamis. Check out other stops on the blog tour as well: Laurie Thompson later today, on March 9 at  Practically Paradise and March 14 at Simply Science.
 This review is part of the STEM Friday book round-up hosted today at NC Teacher Stuff . It's also part of the Nonfiction Monday book round-up, hosted on March 5 at 100 Scope Notes. A copy of the book was provided by the publisher.