Tag Archives: birds

Blending Nature Journals, Science and YouTube

img_6857Sometimes it is difficult to plan out every single academic subject. As long as I have a solid idea where we are with Math and Language Arts, the other subjects can live in a state of flux at times. While I might want S’s curriculum a little more focused and firm in content, this is particularly true for G’s lessons. We might use our Magic School Bus science kit for a couple of weeks, abandon it for a human anatomy book the next week, and finally just not have time for any official science for a few more weeks. I think this is ok when you are six. Science is around us, and our backyard and sun room have provided us with automatic sources for nature studies.

One of the first things we did after moving in to our current home just over a year ago was to set up a few bird feeders outside our sun room windows. I have written about the amount of time we spend watching all our feathered friends. Last month G and I printed out several pictures of our favorite birds we tend to see in our neighborhood. We used them to create a poster for our sunroom. G meticulously keeps track of their appearances at the feeders and the trees by placing tally marks as he sights them.

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Exploring the nature of the Midwest, its flora and fauna, is the most  obvious form of science I can engage in with G. Honestly, it demands little of my time in a season where I feel I need to expend my efforts on other things. A walk through a trees-y trail or wading in a creek and our appetites are enhanced for further study. These have often inspired us in our library  choices.

G and I have time on Tuesdays between dropping S off at co-op before his own class begins. It is inconvenient to drive all the way home so we usually pack a few books, read at a cafe or go to a nearby park. Last Tuesday G drew some birds.

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Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America by Roger Tory Peterson and Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock have become great tools to keep us well informed and asking good questions. G found a great spot under a tree in which to draw his favorite bird, currently the Eastern Bluebird. He is not particularly adept at drawing, so he initially found this task overwhelming in just drawing from a nature book. Then, he remembered YouTube. We found some great little videos taking us step by step in drawing our chosen birds. Here is his Eastern Bluebird. You can find the video we watched here.

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G used a very similar one for his Northern Cardinal. Watch it here.

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Our geography lessons have us in Central America now, so not only did we find a book filled with gorgeous amphibian photography, but G also included the Panamanian Golden Frog in his nature journal. The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs, a Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle describes the predicament of these brightly colored amphibians and a skin disease that began striking their population in the mid 1990s. We actually found a specific drawing lesson for this particular frog. You can try it here.

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YouTube often has a bad reputation for inappropriate content and mindless twaddle, and rightly so, but we try to take advantage of some of the goodness it does offer.

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A Sparrow has come to tell us….

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Unknown to the majority of Americans or many outside his home country of Serbia, Jovan Jovanović “Zmaj” wrote patriotic and romantic poems, fables and children’s poetry.  “Čika” or Uncle Jova was Serbia’s  most beloved poet writing prolifically from the 1850s through the turn of the century, endearing himself to both children and adults.  If we could package the feelings Americans once felt  for Longfellow and Shel Silverstein, then mix it with Robert Frost and a bit of Jack Prelutsky, we might have an understanding of how much “Uncle” Jova was, and is, loved.  Although Jovan Jovanović Zmaj sets the following poem about a little sparrow’s word of gratitude at the waning of winter, the birds about my January feeder put me in mind of this piece.  I have searched for its English translation throughout the internet with no success.  Even so, I want to share it with you, even if it is only a poor reconstruction.  Please forgive my lack of experience in translating poetry.  Here “Uncle” Jova reminds us to be kind.

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Došao vrabac da nam….                                                A Sparrow has come to tell us…

Živ, živ, živ!                                                                            Alive, alive, alive!

Hvala bogu, ja sam jošte živ                                              Thank heavens, I am still alive.

Oprostite, molim lepo,                                                        Forgive me, kindly please,

Ako sam vam štogod kriv,                                                  If I have somehow wronged you.

Živ, živ, živ!                                                                              Alive, alive, alive!

 

Živi bili i vi svi,                                                                       Long may you all live

Što me niste gonili!                                                               Since you have not chased me away

Zima većem prolazi,                                                             Winter  has largely passed

Proleće nam dolazi,                                                               Spring is on its way.

Danas, sutra biće zima                                                         Today or tomorrow winter will be

Nama svima za leđima.                                                        Behind our backs.

 

Da ne nađoh oko vaših kuća                                               Had I not found

Lepe sitne hrane,                                                                  Nice bits of food about your house

Ja bih zimus provodio                                                          I would have spent

Vrlo posne dane.                                                                    Some very lean, winter days

 

Možda bi mi zeludac                                                          Perhaps my stomach would have

O prazninu zapo,                                                                Ached from emptiness

A možda bih, sirotan,                                                        Or perhaps, poor me,

Od gladi i skapo.                                                                 I would have collapsed from hunger.

 

Jeste li vi to meni dali,                                                     Whether or  not you intentionally fed me,

Il su dari sami pali.                                                            Or those gifts fell on their own,

To ne mogu da rasudim                                                    I cannot discern

Mojim mozgom malim.                                                   With my little mind.

 

Tek ja, evo, dođoh,                                                        Even so, I have just come here

Vama da zahvalim…                                                     To thank you….

Nemojte me terati,                                                        Don’t send me away,

Ja ću vam pevati.                                                            I will sing to you a song.

 

Ne baš kao slavuj,                                                      Not exactly like a nightingale,

Al bolje neg žabac,                                                      But better than a frog

Svako peva svojim glasom,                                     Each sings with his own voice,

A vrabac je vrabac.                                                    And a sparrow as a sparrow.

Window Ornithology

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Wagner’s birdseed with black oil sunflower seeds, peanuts and cracked corn boasts that it will attract the widest variety of birds.  I believe it.   Dark-eyed juncos, tufted titmice, Northern Cardinals, Starlings, and House Sparrows.  House Finches, Nuthatches, Chickadees – A and I  have an ongoing conversation about whether these are Black-capped Chickadees or Carolina Chickadees.  And an occasional visit from Blue Jays – whom I love regardless of their less than popular ways- Downy Woodpeckers and even a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.  They are all fluttering about our feeders in the morning and at noon, which often delays the start of our gathering for morning school work, and prolongs our lunchtime.

But the ones who have surprised me the most are the Robins.

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They are still hanging around.  I guess I was not aware that not all these harbingers of spring migrate each year to warmer climates.  They are certainly appreciative of the bright red berries on the Green Hawthorn(?) tree outside our sun room.  All these grainy, poorly focused photos were taken with my phone through the window.  All those berries were gulped down by about fifteen Robins in one day!

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Scanning the internet for bird quotes, I alighted upon this one.

The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.

-Eric Berne

How would you even mistake a jay for a sparrow? I realize I do not have a a context for this quote; I randomly pulled it from Goodreads, but I don’t really agree. Neither would Vladimir Nabokov.  A likely apocryphal story has a Cornell University student seeking advice as a writer.

“What kind of tree is that?” Nabokov supposedly inquired, gesturing out the window.

“I don’t know,” shrugged the student.

“Then you will never be a writer.” returned Nabokov discouragingly.

Perhaps he meant to say that details are important.  The more we know something, the more we have the capacity to love it.

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All day the sun has shone on the surface of some savage swamp, where the single spruce stands hung with usnea lichens, and small hawks circulate above, and the chickadee lisps amid the evergreens, and the partridge and rabbit skulk beneath; but now a more dismal arid fitting day dawns, and a different race of creatures awakes to express the meaning of Nature there.

-Henry David Thoreau, from Walden

 

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Whether flitting about the feeder, scratching on the ground or taking shelter in the bushes, I take great delight in the presence of all the birds.  I love all their markings, crests and patterns.  My children have picked up on feeding patterns and seed preferences. We are even able to predict at what time of day our favorite feathered friends will appear.  Each of us has our own favorites. We are cultivating friendships, and there is something joyous about providing for them.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

-Matthew 6:26-27

 

Building a Nest

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Of all the picture books I have read with my guys over the years,  An Egg is Quiet is quite possibly the most engaging to me as an adult.  It is a beautiful work in nature studies.  Written with a palpable sense of awe over the natural world, the illustrations are breathtaking, rivaling any naturalist’s notebooks.  Birds, fish, amphibians, crustaceans and insects are represented within the colorful pages.  First we meet them as eggs.

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Later, we learn how colorful, clever and giving these eggs really are.  Nature is created so intricately, which leads us to the conclusion that nothing is insignificant.  Through three-year-old G’s eyes, it is all beautiful and funny and wonderful.

Spring2014 044 Finally, we are able to meet the active, noisy by-products of these quiet eggs.  The colors are striking, and there are never-ending possibilities of games G and I can play directly from the pages: Name the creature- birds, fish, or insects, sight words, I spy, animal habitats, shapes, colors and textures.

Today, however, we take our inspiration from the page below.

"Hummingbird eggs are the size of a jelly bean.  It would take about 2,000 hummingbird eggs to equal the size of one ostrich egg."
“Hummingbird eggs are the size of a jelly bean. It would take about 2,000 hummingbird eggs to equal the size of one ostrich egg.”

With that short description, our activity with the book is obvious – we are making our own hummingbird’s nest.  I stared at the illustration, knowing a hummingbird typically uses cotton fluff or spider webs, and shredded wheat with melted marshmallows instantly came to mind.

Here’s a rough approximation of our recipe. (I am not good at  measuring while cooking.  I tend simply to eye-ball it.)

EDIBLE BIRD’S “NEST” (makes about 3-4 tiny “nests”)

1 C shredded wheat, coarsely crushed

2-2 1/2 C marshmallows

2 T butter

Melt the last two ingredients on medium-low heat until sticky.  Spring2014 042

Remove from heat and stir in shredded wheat.  Let sit for a moment before forming into “nests.”  We found that if we spray our hands lightly with cooking spray, the mixture was much easier to manipulate, and didn’t simply stick to our fingers.

Definitely do not forget to add your jelly beans for the tiny eggs.

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And maybe a bird.

Spring2014 048 You may wish to click here to watch a stunning video of a mother hummingbird slowly building her nest.  You will be mesmerized.

Also, by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long, and in the same vein, is A Butterfly is Patient, and A Seed is Sleepy.

The birds of the sky nest by the waters,

they sing among the branches.

Psalm 104:12

Days of the Blackbird

Frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall have ensured much of America has spent a great deal of  time indoors since the New Year.  In between board games, baking cookies and muffins, and eating soups, chilis and stews, G and I  have been snuggling up with a good book.  This time of year I like to reach for Tomie dePaola.  Though they may not always admit it, A and S have not fully outgrown the Italian-Irish American author and his picture books.  G will always happily sit for a Tomie dePaola story.  He has many wonderful Christmas-time tales like Tony’s Bread, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, and The Night of Las Posadas.  Yet now that the holidays have passed us by, and we are simply left with the icy winds, salty, slushy stains in our entry way, and mittens thrown here and there, I take comfort in The Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy.

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According to dePaola, northern Italy refers to the final three days of January as the days of the blackbird.  The author spins a sweet story of kindness, love and miraculous hope.  In the northern mountains of Italy, possibly in the late Middle Ages, the Duca Gennaro falls ill and daughter Gemma desperately struggles to nurse him back to health.  The Duke’s sole comforts are his daughter and the beautiful song of the birds in his courtyard, particularly that of La Colomba, the all-white dove.  Gemma sets out plates of seed and suet for her bird friends.  She creates baskets for them stuffed with wool in hopes of persuading them to stay through the winter.  Gemma believes her father will recover with bird song and the arrival of spring.  The miracle of the story is when La Colomba (the white dove) remains all winter, finding warmth on the coldest final days in January at the top of the duke’s chimney.  She is transformed by the soot into La Merla (a blackbird).  Of course, the Duke is restored to health, and the birds return in the spring.  La Merla is forever black, and Duca Gennaro honors her by naming the last three days in January as the days of the blackbird.

Our first activity with this book was basic geography.  We looked at many maps and talked about Italy.  This is not an unknown country to G.  We have read many stories which take place in Italy, and his father spent several of his growing-up years there.  We learned the basics: Italy is in Europe, mostly surrounded by water, and is shaped like a boot.  Northern Italy is in the mountains and can get cold in the winter.  Fortunately, dePaola sprinkles his book with Italian vocabulary and expressions.  Not only does this give a more authentic feel to the tale, but has given G the opportunity to take ownership of the story.  He knows the white bird, for example, is La Colomba.  He is also excited when Natale arrives, because the villagers get to eat panettone.

Our next activity drew our attention to the birds.  G realized we had not filled up the bird feeder in awhile, so we trudged out in the deep, crispy snow to do that.  This book focuses on kindness – the kindness of the duke to the villagers, and then Gemma modeling this kindness to the birds and the children.

We peeked in our family room fireplace to talk about ashes and soot.  La Colomba was miraculously transformed into La Merla after sitting at the top of the chimney.  I printed out a basic bird color page.  I lit a couple of matches and let G hold his hand a good distance above the flame to feel the warmth.  After blowing out the match, I showed him how to use the burnt end as a “crayon,” and we colored or painted the bird a sooty black.  PLEASE be careful when doing this activity with little ones.  Obviously, you want to make sure they are supervised at all times.  In fact, S warned me when we started that he thought this was NOT a good idea.  He is always the concerned brother.

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After a couple of days we made a warm basket for our bird, just like Gemma did with   a couple of handfuls of cotton balls stuffed into a basket I had on hand. Secretly, I think G was a little disappointed.  I think he thought we were going to make a basket for the real birds.

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2014-winter 100For those of you in wintry climes, may you stay warm with great bowls of soup.  May you ALL enjoy health and the warmth of family.  Curl up with a good story; hug your children; plan some kindness.  May you find and create beauty in these days of the blackbird, the coldest days of the year.