Summer vacation nature study

That’s what we’ve been doing these past few weeks. As the last few weeks of summer have been winding down, we’ve been trying to prepare for the new school year and taking advantage of the outdoors as much as possible.

School supplies needed to be purchased, registration needed to be done (during which we had an unexpected ER visit due to my daughter running straight into the corner of a wall, slicing her forehead open a 1/2 inch), new shoes needed to be purchased, dental checkups needed to be had, hairs needed to be cut, and ears needed to be pierced. Okay, they didn’t NEED to be pierced, but that’s all they’ve talked about wanting to get since they saw their 7 month old baby cousin with her ears pierced.

Now, I don’t otherwise jump at their request to buy whatever my kids tell me they want, and I have refused to dress them up like teen pop stars. But, this one time, I thought it would be nice to let them have something really special and feminine. I figure it would only be a matter of time before they got earrings anyway, and I figured why not now. I know for a fact in certain cultures (like my one Cuban friend told me) that it is fairly expected to get a baby girl’s ears pierced almost immediately.

We have been busy engaged in nature study with wild birds. And it is true – If you feed them, they will come. (Oh, by the way, that red crate in the back is protecting the oak seedling I found and transplanted from the bunnies that like to nibble on tender leaves like they did with my morning glory plants earlier this year).

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We’ve seen sparrows, house wrens, mourning doves, black birds, robins, and very occasionally my favorites: an American Goldfinch, the House Finch, a cardinal, and a juvenile cardinal (a lighter red with a gray beak). I haven’t been able to attract the elusive Blue Jay though I do know I’ve seen one in the neighborhood.

And of course, we get the non-bird critters too: you might be able to see two rabbits in the center of the picture and occasionally we get a bold gray squirrel. We watch them from our deck, but unfortunately, I can’t zoom in much with my camera.

We have our binoculars ready and our Birds of Indiana field guide to help us identify the types of birds. My 6.5 year old really likes helping me to identify the birds we see.

We still have the toad we found in the park and we haven’t managed to kill it yet, so that is good. I spend a great deal of my time not only studying the toad, but the bugs that it eats (or doesn’t eat – like the grasshopper, or the damselfly I caught). I knew crickets chirp, but had never really seen that they move their wings to make the chirping sound. We also gave the toad some time outside it’s terrarium, to give it a chance to exercise. We took it over to visit some boys down the street and to hop around on the grass. Can you believe they didn’t even want to touch it? I thought all boys were born with an anti-squirm gene. Apparently not all.

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I’m having a hard time convincing my oldest that we ought to release the little guy back to the wild (if you could consider the suburbs a wilderness), but she just gets sad and cries. Yet, I’m not really digging the idea of keeping him around forever. It’s nearly impossible to catch bugs outside and it does cost money to buy crickets.

We also have spent time catching grasshoppers and releasing them. I have no pictures, but we did catch a very big one, and a lot of little baby ones. They were just a bunch of small (about 1/2 inch sized) grasshoppers hopping along in our backyard and there must have been born in our grass recently.

We did manage to squeeze in a last minute mini-vacation this week. We went to Deer Forest in Coloma Michigan. It was a bit of a hard day, but only because my 4.9 year old has been having an increase in meltdowns lately, due to the fact that she is anxious about starting a new school year. Going on vacation resulted in no less than 5 meltdowns over 2 days. Sigh.

Anyway, here’s a picture of the deer forest.

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We actually got to step inside the enclosure to feed the deer, and when you went in with your bucket of food, they swarmed around you. There were many more deer on the other side of me I’m not showing. There were other animals, including your typical calves, sheep, chicken and turkeys.

One of my favorites was an Arctic Fox.

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I think it was because I wrote a school term paper (okay, whatever it’s called when you are in elementary school) on the Arctic Fox, so this little guy brought back the memory of my project. It was one of the first times we actually had to do library research for the paper. I remember spending time looking up the facts in the library, writing them all down on notecards, then using the notecards to come up with an outline and then writing the paper from the outline. Okay, that’s boring as heck, but I used to be a bit of a geek in school (can you tell?).

They had a section at the park of a wooden structure mimicking the buildings of an old western town, with a general store and sheriff’s office. I kind of forgot to take a picture of that building, but I did remember to take a picture of the panning for gold (okay, gemstone) attraction.

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And our gems

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We overnighted in St. Joseph, and we went to the Curious Kid’s children’s museum there. It was of course a lot of fun for the kids. I wished I could take one of the exhibits home with me – the pulley exhibit. I’ve been wanting to set up a pulley experiment, but I wouldn’t be able to find one quite like this. Those red weights were really heavy and it got progressively easier to pull up the weights when the pulleys did the work for you.

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(that’s not me in the picture, but someone else).

I did do a quickie lesson in pulley mechanics with dd, asking her which weight was hardest to pull and which weight was easiest to pull and why. I also videotaped the mini lesson while doing so (gotta love the digital cameras these days with video capability), so we could go review it.

And of course, we weren’t far from Lake Michigan – literally only steps away from the beach, but we were pressed for time and I left my camera in the car when we walked to lunch. I was supremely impressed how clean and serene the beaches were there, but I guess that’s because I’m used to the Indiana side of the Lake, where there are many more industries and the casino boats are.

Oh, and as a total aside: It was really strange to see black squirrels running about in St. Joseph, MI. We only have gray squirrels in our area and we were very surprised to see black squirrels not two hours away from our home. I simply never would have thought I’d see a black one. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

In case you were wanting to know more about squirrel colors, you could read about some Amazing Squirrel Stories at Roadside America.com
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I hope to get back to regularly posting, especially since I’m not liking this slacker mom mode I’ve been in.

This entry was posted in Backyard nature, Field trip, Nature Study, science. Bookmark the permalink.

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