Goldfinch Fever

At the first hint of spring, I bought two bright yellow thistle feeders—one for the Explorers and one for me and my family.

photo by Joe Healey

In my twenties, I visited my friends Greg and Melinda, in Martha’s Vineyard. Their house had a long deck that overlooked a tree-filled yard. Attached to the railing of the deck were three thistle feeders. While we sat out on the deck, I noticed flashes of yellow. My eyes followed a flash to one of the feeders. On the long, thin feeder sat an exotic-looking bird. It was bright yellow, black, and white. “What kind of bird is that?” I asked, half expecting the answer to involve a pirate ship that brought these birds from a faraway land. My friend Melinda replied, “That’s a goldfinch. They like to eat thistle seed, which is in those feeders. Aren’t they beautiful!” I watched the bright, active birds all weekend, happy with my discovery.

Eleven years after my visit to Martha’s Vineyard, I bought my first thistle feeder. I mistakenly believed there was a secret to attracting those beautiful yellow gems. It turns out the “secret” is to put up a thistle feeder. If you feed them they will come.

photo by Joe Healey

This spring, I had goldfinches at home and at Schoolmates. I told the Explorers, “I am excited to teach you about a new bird. This bird turns bright yellow in the spring.” The Explorers all caught “goldfinch!” They learned to recognize the goldfinches right away and could identify the male from female.  At Schoolmates, the feeder is right outside our classroom window. All day long, I heard, “Ann, there’s a goldfinch at the feeder.” “I see a really yellow one!” “Look, look, a goldfinch!”

At home, I’m the one who calls out when there is a goldfinch at the feeder. “Goldfinch!” “Look, two goldfinches at the feeder.” Stephen, Aurora, and Dave dutifully look in the direction of the feeder, nod, and smile. It’s not the excitement of five-year-olds, but I’ll take it. Stephen now fills the feeder with thistle seed for me. Maybe they will catch Goldfinch fever at some point. We’ll have to see.

For you, dear readers, I suggested you put up a thistle feeder and invite these beautiful birds into your yard. Don’t wait eleven years like I did.

Here are some “cool facts” from All About Birds:

Goldfinch count from the Explorers’ bird counting worksheet.

  • American goldfinches breed later than most North American birds. They wait to nest until June or July, when milkweed, thistle, and other plants have produced their fibrous seeds, which goldfinches incorporate into their nests and also feed their young.
  • Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect.
  • Paired-up goldfinches make virtually identical flight calls; goldfinches may be able to distinguish members of various pairs by these calls.

Related links:

All about Birds

Birds & Blooms

If you would like to support Barking Frog Farm: click on the links below to buy feeders and birdseed at Amazon. 

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Jack’s Shares his Exciting Morning

barred owl

Jack’s Barred Owl

Jack, one of the Explorers at Schoolmates, arrived on a Monday morning with a photograph and a great story about an owl, a mouse, and three blue jays. Earlier that morning, Jack and his mom heard a racket in their backyard. They went outside together to investigate. In a large pine tree, they saw an owl holding a mouse, while blue jays squawked around it.  

Jack was eager to share this story with his teachers and classmates. This created a wonderful learning opportunity for the whole class. We found a picture of his owl in our classroom reference book. It was a barred owl. I explained the eating habits of owls during circle time.

Owls eat their prey whole or in large pieces. This prey passes directly from the owl’s mouth into a two part stomach. The digestible parts of the prey are broken down by stomach acids in the first chamber and then move to the owl’s intestines. The undigestible part—fur, feathers, scales, and bones move to the second part of the stomach—the gizzard and are formed into a pellet. This pellet is regurgitated by the owl and dropped to the ground.

On Wednesday, Jack and his mom arrived with an owl pellet and another great story about finding it under the pine tree. Jack said, “He stayed in the tree the WHOLE day. I watched him!”  

Children are natural scientists. They watch, explore, investigate, and ask questions both in school and out. We encourage our Explorers to share their discoveries, and believe a strong home/school connection enriches us all. 

Check out Barking Frog Farm’s post: The Owl Pellet  and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s thoughts on kids and science.

Ever Wonder: What Owl Pellets Are?

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My Favorite Kind of Streaming!!!

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Seeing Greens, Lots and Lots of Greens

Turn off the screens and take it outside. Take time from work, from chores, from the day to day-tasks that keep us busy. Adults and children, take it outside. Each week I will challenge you to see and hear new things—to hunt the woods for wildflowers, to find shapes in nature, to sit by the waterside and listen for unique sounds. So much to experience out in the world!

Connecticut River in May

Jade, emerald, lime, asparagus, myrtle, olive, fern, moss, sea, pine, pear, swamp, forest, persian, shamrock, harlequin, jungle, camouflage, kelly, teal, aqua, grass. What images do these words conjure? What color do you see in your minds eye? Green? A particular shade, tone, or hue of green? A yellow green, a blue green, a dark green? Gardeners know that green is not a simple nor a single color. When designing a garden, the type of green of each plant is as important as the color of the flowers.

green, green, green, woodland plantsTo me, spring is all about green, in all its subtle and obvious variations. Before the leaves on the trees emerge and become more uniform in color, the hillsides look like an artist’s palette. Go out and look for green. Look closely at gardens, woodland plants, and landscapes. Look far into the distance at rolling hillsides, valleys, and river banks. Notice the greens. How many can you see? Notice and name the shades and variations! “Seeing green” has never been so much fun.

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A Balancing Act

Lori and Erica, two imaginative teachers at Schoolmates, came up with this activity. At the end of the school day, they braved the wind and cold in search of just the right moss to create a spring-like center for the preschoolers. This one activity offers each child so much. It offers practice with fine motor skills, concentration, and patience. Then, it offers a chance to investigate the moss itself—its color, feel, small details, smell, and the way it reacts to the golf tees. And any activity that involves golf tees and glass marbles is fun and visually spectacular. As I marveled at the activity, Lori laughed and said, “And The Masters golf tournament is being held right now!”

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John Muir Quote

Camel’s Hump in Vermont


Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.

–John Muir

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I was inspired…

I was inspired by the wind moving the branches of the trees. —Jack

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Wood Frogs Visit the Explorers

Most years as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I start to listen for the wood frog’s song. There is a swamp and a pond near Schoolmates. These are  favorite breeding spots for wood frogs. I love it when the frogs arrive! Their familiar call is an early sign of spring, and sharing the frogs with my kids and the Explorers is the best!

At the end of February, I took a hike in Canfield Woods, a local nature preserve in Deep River and Essex, Connecticut. At the top of the hill, where all the trails meet, there is a vernal pool. (Read Barking Frog Farm’s post on Vernal Pools.) As I approached this trail head, called The Gap, I heard the quacky call of the wood frogs. They were early, but I was not surprised. The weather in Connecticut has been unseasonably mild. I walked to the edge of the pool and looked for the frogs. The frogs often float on tops of the water. I could see a dozen. So much fun!

frog textWhen I got back to my car at the end of the hike, I texted Lori and Kelly, fellow teachers at Schoolmates, that the wood frogs were out at Canfield Woods. Lori texted back that Rowan, an Explorer, and his dad had delivered two woods frogs to school that afternoon.

Frog picture by Jayda

The next day, the frogs were given a place of honor on the art table in our classroom. The Explorers watched them and drew pictures of them.

Each year, during woods frog season, I learn something new about this enchanting frog. This year I learned that the wood frog is the only frog species that lives north of the Arctic Circle. I also learned more about
its mating process. The male frog wraps his front legs around the chest of the female and waits for her to lay her eggs. As she lays them, he deposits his sperm on them.

The best wood frog fact, in my opinion,  is that in the winter their bodies freeze. As much as 65% of the water in a wood frog’s body turns to ice. Its heart stops beating, and it stops breathing. When spring arrives, the wood frog thaws out and hops away.

Kidzone – Wood frogs

Wood frogs in Alaska

Wildlife Junior Journal


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Snow + Birdseed + Creative Vision

A creative idea for a snow day.
The birds and squirrels will love it!

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Hide and Seek with the Moon

Full Moon

full moon through the trees
photo by Joe Healey

It was a clear summer night, and I was driving down a dark wooded road. My son, William, almost 2-years-old, was behind me in his car seat. “Moon,” called William into the silence of the car. I looked to the east and saw a glimmer of white through the trees. Then, silence. But now, the silence was different. William was on high alert, watching and waiting. He had seen the rising full moon and was now looking for it. A minute or so passed, then the trees cleared and the moon was big and bright in the sky. William shrieked in delight, “Hi, moon!” The moon again disappeared behind the tall trees, and again William fell silent. His anticipation was palpable. When the moon reappeared he called out, “I see you, Moon!” This went on until the moon rose above the trees and the game of hide and seek was over. Such a magical idea.

super moon

Super Moon
photo by Joe Healey

January was an exciting month for moon watching. There were two full moons, and both were super moons. The first was on January 1, and the second on January 31. A super moon occurs when the moon becomes full on the same day it reaches its perigee, (the point on the moon’s elliptical orbit when the moon is closest to Earth.) At these times, the moon appears to be 14% bigger and 30% brighter. A second full moon in a month is called a blue moon.

I had a lot of fun studying the moon with the Explorers in January. Their homework for January 1st was to watch the super moon rise. They all returned to school after winter break with stories about the super moon. Thus began a month of art projects, questions, investigations, pretend play, and books. The Explorers loved tracking the phases of the moon on our classroom calendar. The idea of a blue moon was hard for them to understand. “Will it really be blue?” they would ask. (I left out that this blue moon was also going to feature a lunar eclipse, which meant it was really a Super Blue Blood Moon.) On January 31, we held a Super Blue Moon party, we made a blue moon playlist, learned the song Aikendrum, and made pizza for a snack. Lots of fun!

There was a man lived in the moon, in the moon, in the moon
There was a man lived in the moon and his name was Aikendrum

And he played upon a ladle, a ladle, a ladle
He played upon a ladle and his name was Aikendrum

And his hair was made of spinach, spinach, spinach
His hair was made of spinach and his name was Aikendrum

While prepping for the Moon Unit, I found the wonderful book, City Moon. It is written by Rachael Cole and illustrated by Blanca Gomez. The first time I read the book, it brought me back to that magical night with William and the moon. The book follows a mother and her son through the city as they search for the moon. “After dinner, after tooth-brushing, we put on pajamas, then coats and shoes. We take keys, and bang the big front door behind us. It’s evening. It’s night. We are going on a walk to look for the moon.” The art in City Moon has an architectural quality with rich, saturated colors. On each page, Gomez treats us to a view of city life, both inside the buildings and on the streets. Through Cole’s story, we travel the city with Mama and her little boy. Every word takes us further along on the search for the moon. Enjoy! And then, make your own search for the moon.


Pictures of the Super Blue Blood Moon

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