My Back to School Hike

First day of school had arrived for Stephen and Aurora. I put them on their bus and returned to my now quiet kitchen. My school starts a week later than theirs, so I had the day to myself. I made another cup of tea and packed trail snacks in preparation for my fifth back-ttrail mapo-school hike. Same as last year, my friend Miriam planned to joined me for this annual tradition.

We planned to hike in my stomping grounds at Bushy Hill Nature Center, where there are 700 acres of woodlands with blazed trails. Schoolmates, where I teach, rents a building on these grounds. Miriam and I decided to hike the blue trail to the red trail. This route would take us around Bushy Hill Lake and then into the Cedar Swamp, one of my favorite places on earth.  As we started down the blue trail, my mind wandered to past hikes  and to the Explorers with whom I shared this trail. Miriam and I hiked over  “Tripper Alley,”  named that by the children because of all the rocks and roots along that section of the blue trail. Then we passed “the hop rocks,” a favorite place for building dams and floating sticks down the stream that gently flows between the rocks. Soon, I thought, I will have twelve new Explorers to share theses special places with. I can’t wait!

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Signs of Chipmunks

During a hike in New York, a piece of wood caught my eye. Its was weathered white and circular in shape. When I knelt down to take a picture of it, I noticed an opened nutshell, then another, and another. “I know what this is,” I thought. And started looking for a chipmunk house. It was well hidden but I found it. A collection of nutshells is a telling sign that a chipmunk lives nearby. I continued my hike with chipmunks on my mind and found 2 more homes. Check out the pictures. Can you find the houses?

Follow this link to learn some interesting facts about chipmunks: 10 Things You Don’t Know About Chipmunks

The entrance to the chipmunks home is under the green leaf in the lower left corner.

This chipmunk made is its home in the pipe.

 

 

 

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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.

Green is a wonderful book that plays with the shades of green. Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s artwork is textural and rich. She adds playful cutouts to each page that carry the reader through the book. (If you would like to support Barking Frog Farm click on the book to reach Amazon.)

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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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