Friday, July 12, 2013

Be a Curious Naturalist this Summer

Archimedes Notebook is taking a break from blogging for a few weeks so I can spend this summer being a curious naturalist. I'll be heading out with my camera and notebook - so you'll still find some Wordless Wednesday photos... but I invite you to turn off the computer for a few hours each day and head out to see what's going on outside. And here's a field guide to inspire your exploration:

Naturally Curious
by Mary Holland
495 pages, all ages
Trafalgar Square Books

This isn't the sort of field guide you tuck in with the granola bars and water bottles ... it's too big and too heavy. But as a natural history/field guide it's the perfect resource to have at hand before you head out, when you come back, or sitting around the tent on a rainy day. The photos are luscious - most taken by naturalist/writer/photographer Mary Holland.

What I really like is the way this book is set up - it's seasonal. The book begins with spring, March, and wanders through the seasons like a curious kid - peeking under stones and into hollow logs. Each chapter highlights a theme in nature. For March it's "awakening"; for July it's "maturation". This is, after all, the month when fledgelings and young frogs learn to live on their own; when flowers go to seed.

Each chapter begins with "nature notes" - brief accounts of what's happening in the world of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, insects, plants and fungi. Following that is a section called "a closer look" in which Holland focuses on things of particular interest during that season. She's got a profile of bats, the inside scoop on caddisfly larvae and their marvelous cases, and how caterpillars defend themselves from predators. There's also a handy reference to Milkweed visitors.

Mary Holland was gracious enough to answer Three Questions:

Archimedes: What inspired you to begin writing about nature?

Mary: I grew up in rural Massachusetts and had acres of fields and woodlands to roam in. My parents allowed me to bring home skulls, bones and other things I collected. My writing began with a journal - I recorded nature sightings, like the first hummingbird of spring, or the first day I heard peepers calling. When I worked for the Mass. Audubon Society I began writing for their newsletter, using my journal entries as a source for ideas. I eventually wrote a natural history column for a local paper and those columns (plus a lot of additional information) made their way into this book. I want to let people know what they can expect to find outdoors, and tell them a bit about the life of the plants and animals they see.

Archimedes: What's the most curious thing you've ever seen or heard?

Mary: Probably the time a wild Ruffed Grouse walked up to me as I sat quietly in the woods. It climbed up my leg and perched on my knee for several minutes. An equally magical experience is watching the metamorphosis of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly or moth - or a spider spinning its web... it's hard to name a favorite. All of nature is fascinating to me.

Archimedes: Do you have any tips for kids who want to take photos of nature?

Mary: Sit very, very still in one spot for up to half an hour. Often you see more when you let animals come to you, rather than trying to find them. A dragonfly might land on you, or a deer might walk past. Have a magnifying glass with you - there's a whole new world when you look at things closely. Even a common flower, like a dandelion, can look different when magnified. Lastly, use all of your senses; your ears will tell you where a bird is singing, a frog calling, a bee flying.

So, grab your nature journal and a camera and head outside to see what mysteries of nature lurk in your back yard - or the neighborhood park. But before you go, check out resources at STEM Friday.

IF you take cool photos or observe interesting things in nature, and want to share them, please send them to me - I will happily post things Curious Naturalists find this summer. email to: sueheaven (at) gmail (dot) com.And be sure to check in on Wednesdays to see what I'm finding in my neck of the woods. Friday blogs will resume Aug 23.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tracking Insects

By Anne Burgess, used under Creative Commons license
We follow bird tracks, squirrel tracks, deer tracks.... why not bug tracks? Granted, they are small - and what do beetle and cricket tracks look like, anyway?

One way to fine out is to collect insect tracks. You need some black construction paper, fine chalk dust, and a few different insects. Spread the chalk dust on the sheet of paper. Then place an insect down and watch what sort of tracks it leaves.

Ant tracks tend to be complicated patterns, whereas beetles leave a series of wavy parallel lines behind. But what about millipedes? Crickets?

Take photos of your tracks and label them to create a field guide to bug tracks in your back yard. Then, after the next rain, head outside to see who has left their footprints in the mud.

Believe it or not, there is a field guide to insect tracks & signs! Check out more STEM Friday resources here.