Friday, March 29, 2013


In any normal year some of the shrubs and trees in my yard would begin to leaf out soon after the equinox - which was March 20, this year. And some trees, like the maples, flower first.

We're a bit behind this spring... but no matter. The buds are beginning to swell and any day now leaves - or flowers- will break through the bud scales.

However it happens in your neighborhood, now's a good time to get out and meet the new leaves. You might want to keep a "baby book" of leaf growth on your favorite tree. When the leaves begin to open, pick one and trace around it on a sheet of paper. Use colored pencils or watercolors to color in your drawing to match the leaf. Then each week, pick another leaf and trace it. Do that until they are full sized. You should see a neat progression of size and colors.

If you don't want to pick any leaves, use a camera to document the growth. You can even photograph the same leaf over a period of days - just tie a piece of yarn loosely around the twig.

Each tree produces leaves on its own schedule. You might want to make a spring calendar of when different trees "leaf out".  This is part of STEM Friday. You can find more science, technology, engineering and math resources for kids here.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Hawks are back - with a nest full of eggs

Folks who watched Big Red and Ezra raise chicks last year will be thrilled to know they are back and, as of March 20, have three eggs in the nest.
You can catch up on the news - and videos - here:
And if you ever forget how to find them, just click on the nest-cam icon over to the right.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Place for Turtles ~ Blog Tour

A Place for Turtles
By Melissa Stewart; illus. by Higgins Bond
32 pages, ages 6-10
Peachtree, 2013

A Place for Turtles is the sixth book in a series that Melissa Stewart started a dozen years ago. Like other in the “A Place for…” series, this one provides a fascinating look at a diversity of turtles – and lists many ways that people can help protect turtles and their habitats. Stewart explains how turtles are related to other animals (they’re herps), where they live, what they eat, and why they are important for the environment. She explains why plastic bags are dangerous – they look like jellyfish and sea turtles eat them by mistake – and includes “turtle tidbits” – did you know a turtle shell is made of 60 different bones?

The illustrations are every bit as precise and informative as the writing. Higgins Bond has illustrated each book in the series, and I love the bright, crisp images and the field-guide feel she gives to the book. It begins with the endpapers – the range maps that show where each turtle species can be found – and continues with spreads that draw us into the habitats where each lives.

Higgins studied art and has produced illustrations for the Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian Institute, the US Post Office and scads of children’s books. She calls her style “photo-realistic”. To get that realism, she works from photos. She takes her own when she can, and relies on extensive reference files and books. While she uses the information from those sources, she respects the work of photographers; she doesn’t copy their work. In fact, she draws on 10 – 15 sources for a single illustration.

Archimedes: What medium do you use to illustrate the "Place for" series?

Higgins: I have always done my color illustrations with acrylic paint on illustration board. When I do larger work I work on canvas. I like acrylics because it is fast and can be easily corrected if necessary. But I use watercolor brushes because I can get better detail with them.

Archimedes: Talk about the process of illustrating “A Place for…” books and your collaboration with Melissa.

Higgins: Once I get Melissa’s manuscript I do a lot of research. Then I start to work on sketches. I usually get some suggestion from the Art Director and Melissa as to what they think might work on each page. But it is ultimately up to me to interpret what the author has written. Once the sketches are done the editors, art directors and Melissa all have to approve and make any changes. Then I start to paint. Melissa and I send occasional emails, and I’ve met her at book signings and book fairs. I love working on her books – but I think the fact that we are not too close allows us to remain objective about our jobs.

Archimedes: What is illustrating stamps like?

Higgins: That was my greatest honor to have illustrated three stamps for the US Postal Service. There is much more pressure to get it right when you illustrate a stamp. It has to stand the test of time. The paintings are about 7 inches x 9 inches.  I remember having to work very fast because I was not given much time to complete it.

Archimedes: Why is "Higgins Bond" an illustrator and not a spy for her majesty's secret service?

Higgins: I became an illustrator because of my son. After graduating from college I worked as a sketch artist for a Park Avenue ad agency in New York City. But when I found I was going to have a baby I really wanted to stay at home with my child for at least a little while. Like most people, I couldn’t afford to not work, so I became a freelance illustrator. That allowed me to stay at home and still work. My son turns 39 this year, and I have illustrated 39 books - one for every year of his life.

If you missed one of the days on the blog tour, head over to the Peachtree Blog for links. And remember to check out other cool science resources at STEM Friday. Review copy from publisher.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

3.14 Ways to Celebrate Pi Day

Happy Pi Day!

Not only is March 14 Pi Day, but it's also Einstein's birthday - and that calls for a real celebration. So put on some music and let's get this party started.

1 -  Make a Pi Chain
You need 10 colors of construction paper, one color for each digit. For example: red = 1, blue = 2, green = 3.... Cut the paper into strips and glue the rings together in order of Pi.

2 -  A Pi-mile challenge.
After all that sitting and cutting and gluing, you need to get out and stretch your legs. Nothing better than a 3.14 mile run to get your blood moving and make you ready for some...

3 - Birthday Pi or Cake
It doesn't matter which you make, as long as you have a measuring tape large enough to go around it. Measure how big the cake is around (circumference) and divide it by how far across (diameter) to get Pi - or at least a decent approximation of it.

3.14 - Decorate Pi plates: Glue a Pi symbol onto the middle of a paper plate and color it. Then write the digits of Pi around the outside border to as high as you want to go.

Pi-in-the-sky: Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879. Figure out how old he would be if he were still alive - and convert that into Pi years (a Pi year = 3.14 years). This is part of STEM Friday. Check out more science, technology, engineering and math resources here.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Look for New Comet this Week & Next

The astronomers at Kopernik Observatory & Space Center say that we should be able to see a new comet this week. The comet, "PanSTARRS" was first detected in June 2011 and is believed to have originated in the Oort clout out beyond Pluto. With an orbital period of 100,000 years it's not going to be a frequent visitor.

The comet has been visible to the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere for a few weeks; now people in the Northern Hemisphere will get a view. We should be able to see it through March 21 - look low in the west right after sunset.

Check out EarthSky for Everything You Need to Know about Comet PanSTARRS - including photos and a great video about how this comet formed.

And, as you look for PanSTARRS, keep in mind this advice from comet-hunter David Levy: Comets are like cats; they have tails and they do precisely what they want.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Checking in with the Red Tails

Last month Big Red and Ezra visited their nest to rearrange sticks and, maybe, get it ready for use this spring. The red-tailed hawk pair built a nest up above one of Cornell University's athletic fields, and the bird-cam allows us an up-close-and-personal view into their private lives. Mid-winter visits give the pair a chance to check out the nest and determine whether it's in good enough shape to use for another year.

Red tailed hawk pairs share the work of nest-building or, in this case, refurbishing. They might add new sticks until the next reaches 6 feet high and 3 feet across. Watch for them bringing bark strips, fresh foliage and dry vegetation to line the inner cup.

It's not to early to start keeping an eye on things. Last year Big Red laid her first egg on March 15. So drop by this week and click on the bird-cam button over there on the right and check out the action - or lack of action - over at Big Red's place.

Remember to turn off the computer and head outside to see what birds in your neighborhood are doing. This post is part of STEM Friday. Check out more science, technology, engineering and math resources here.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Slow Melt into Spring

This is the season of snow melting, rain and slush, freeze-thaw, cold nights and sap-running days. It is the time when things start to move.

So, how does the snow melt in your backyard? Where does it melt first? Last?

Where do the puddles collect? Where are the squooshy spots in the lawn?

When the snow melts, where does the water go? Can you follow it? Draw a map?

The snow in my yard melts into tiny rivulets that, if there's too much to percolate into the soil, runs into a gully. More water collects until, half a mile away, it joins a creek with no name. That wanders along the base of a hill and eventually winds up in Catatonk Creek, which eventually joins the Susquehanna which winds through the hills of southern New York and northern Pennsylvania and then finally heads towards the Chesapeake Bay.

Where does your water go?
This post is part of STEM Friday. Check out more science, technology, engineering and math resources here.