1…2…3…Butterflies!

Here’s a novel way to encourage children to practice counting and other math skills: try counting butterflies.  All across the US, volunteers are counting butterflies in the name of science. In 1975, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) launched it’s annual butterfly count program. Volunteers from all over North America  join together on designated days to identify and count butterflies – no scientific degree needed. By using only your eyes and enthusiasm, you will contribute to scientists understanding of local butterfly populations and how they have changed over time.

For more information on where and when these counts take place check out the NABA website: http://www.naba.org

You can also learn more about butterfly counting at: http://www.monarchnet.uga.edu,  or at: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org.

Happy Counting!

Use Native Plants For a Healthy Yard…and Planet.

Adding flowering plants to your garden supports earth-friendly pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  But not just any flowering plant will do.  NATIVE PLANTS are necessary in order for insects such as butterflies to reproduce.  Without pollinating insects, our crops and food supply is at risk.

What is a native plant?  A plant that grew in the US in free colonial days.  More importantly, the plant should have grown and evolved LOCALLY.  Plants native to Maine would not be the same as those found in Kansas.  To create healthy ecosystems, our gardens and farmlands are best pollinated by creatures that depend on NATIVES for their survival.  One great example is planting milkweed for the monarch butterfly – an endangered species.  While butterfly bushes ATTRACT these insects, monarch butterflies DO NOT lay their eggs on anything except the milkweed.   

Milkweed from my garden.

For more information about native plants in your area, visit: http://www.npsnj.org

http://www.natureconservancy.org

Also check out the children’s environmental site: http://www.Parade.com/turfmutt

Follow the “right plant, right place” rule when you plant your garden.  Transitioning to Native Plants makes a positive contribution to our environment and the future health of our planet and food supply.

Save Seeds…Save Life…Spread Some Beauty

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the critical importance of SEEDS.  It’s not something we think much about, but our very lives depend on seeds.  Without them, we have no food.  And we all know how important food is.  If you hold seeds in your hand…you hold life.  Monsanto and other companies hold patents on seeds.  Think about this: THEY CAN CONTROL THE WORLD’S FOOD.  If we want to ensure biodiversity and ample food for future generations, we need to preserve seeds and all the abundant varieties of foods they represent.  How can we do it?

Saving seeds was common practice for our ancestors, to ensure that there would be food even during lean times.  As mechanization and hybridization took over farming in the 20th Century, the practice was lost….but thankfully, not forgotten.

SEED BANKS are popping up in an unusual place…your local library.  There are more than 600 seed libraries in North America.  These collections will provide a free packet of seeds, information on gardening and seed saving techniques.  SEED SAVERS is responsible for much of today’s seed library stock.  It has 25,000 varieties – many of them rare or exclusive – dating before WWII. These seeds belong in the public domain and cannot be patented. The goal is to get these seeds into as many people’s hands as possible.  Why not visit your local library and plant some seeds?

For more information on this important program visit: http://www.seedsavers.org

http://www.libraryseedbank.info

You can spread some beauty in your own backyard by making some wildflower SEED BOMBS. 

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Seed-Bomb

For more garden crafts visit:  http://www.redtedart.com/garden-crafts-challenge-get-crafty/

How to See More Rainbows by Marilyn Ostermiller

Would you like to see more rainbows? You must be in the right place at the right time.

It’s not just a matter of luck when we look into the sky on a rainy day and spot a glorious arc. The sun has to be shining behind you and rain or mist or spray must be in front of you. That’s when you are in the perfect spot to enjoy one.

Rainbows occur when sunlight and rain combine in a very specific way. When a beam of sunlight travels toward Earth, the light is white. But, if the light beam happens to hit raindrops at a certain angle on the way down, the different colors that make up the beam separate so that we can see them as a rainbow.

The angle for each color of a rainbow is different, because the colors slow down at different speeds when they enter the raindrop. The light exits the raindrop in one color, depending on the angle it came in, so we see only one color coming from each raindrop. Light at different angles coming through many raindrops form the rainbow that we see.

The spectrum of colors is always in the same order with red at the top, followed by orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. (ROY G BIV is an easy way to remember the order)

April, with its famous showers, is a good time to be on the alert for rainbows. But if Mother Nature doesn’t provide one when you are in the mood, you can create a miniature one for yourself with a garden hose. Meteorologist Joe Rao suggests you simply stand with your back to the sun and adjust the hose to a fine spray. Rainbows can also be seen against the spray of a waterfall.

There are even ways to use water, mirrors and windows to form rainbows in the house. For instructions, visit www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Rainbow

Rainbows are the subject of several children’s picture books including nonfiction books that explain the science behind the beauty and fictional story books. 

Among them:

Ready-to-Read Level One Rainbow. Newbery Honor recipient and New York Times bestselling author Marion Dane Bauer teaches beginning readers about rainbows in this one. It is illustrated by John Wallace.

A Rainbow of My Own, by Don Freeman. A small boy imagines what it would be like to have his own rainbow to play with.

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.

 

 

 

Shiela Fuller Takes you on: A NIGHT HIKE FOR THE ELUSIVE SPOTTED SALAMANDER

If you live in the eastern part of the United States and have access to vernal ponds, you might want to go on a night hunt in search of the spotted salamander.

Get out your flashlight and put on your wading boots because the area around vernal ponds can sometimes be muddy. The absolute best time to find the spotted salamander is after a rainfall just as winter is becoming spring, mid-March through mid-April. This is a very small window of opportunity to find one, as these hibernating amphibians will wake up and march in great numbers in search of the closest vernal pond. It is here that a new generation of salamander eggs are laid.

As larvae, the spotted salamander is dull green in color. It will lie low in the vernal pond under debris.   They will live in the vernal pool breathing with the use of gills for up to 4 months. If the vernal pond should go dry before the salamanders reach the juvenile stage, they will not survive.   If they reach adulthood, the spotted salamander dons a black body with irregular yellowish-orange spots and black vertical costal lines arising from a grey underbelly.  It has a wide snout, perfect for tunneling and burrowing, and gives it the name “mole salamander”.

These salamanders prefer the privacy of the vernal pond to a body of steady open water, like a pond or stream, because there would be a higher number of predators to eat the eggs and larvae. After a few months of living and growing in the pond, the spotted salamander will leave the pond, spending the bulk of its life in a burrow in a deciduous forest. Then the salamanders will emerge once a year and relocate to the vernal pond where it will lay its eggs and begin the cycle over again.

After the salamanders become adults, they prowl for food at night making them nocturnal hunters.   Using their sticky tongue, they eat anything small enough to swallow like worms, crickets, spiders, and slugs.

A an adult, the spotted salamander hides in its burrow below the leaf litter, can separate itself from its tail, and excrete a poisonous substance from glands around its neck, all in an effort to protect itself from predators.  Akin to other salamanders they also have the ability to regenerate or grow new body parts if it becomes injured.

The spotted salamander is not a threatened species but they are susceptible to environmental threats such as the destruction of wetlands or acid rain and the actions of humans.

If you haven’t found a spotted salamander in its natural setting on your own, perhaps a trip to the Sally Rally will increase your knowledge and appreciation of amphibians. The Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania has organized walks to admire the spotted salamander.  The time to go is now.

Spotted Salamander taken by Kristen Fuller

http://events.dcnr.pa.gov/promised_land_state_park#.WO5NZYWcHIU

http://www.paherps.com/herps/salamanders/

http://srelherp.uga.edu/salamanders/ambmac.htm

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/VernalPool_Salamanders.aspx

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/spotted-salamander/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_salamander

https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Library/Amphibians-Reptiles-and-Fish/Spotted-Salamander.aspx

 

Johanna Staton, Me, Shiela Fuller at one of the NJSCBWI events.

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.

 

Become a Naturalist

Ah Spring! There is so much about this time of year that brings out poetry, curiosity and a sense that anything is possible. When the kids get restless and itchy, take a break from video games and household routines and explore the natural world. To make it a more interesting adventure, become Naturalists and record the days observations and sightings. All you need is the following, all of which will fit in a backpack:

1. A pair of binoculars for zooming in on birds or other elusive wildlife. A magnifying glass for closeups of insects and plant life.

2. A Field Guide of insects and birds of North America.  There are many excellent ones you can borrow from a local library or download onto your Kindle or iphone.

3. A journal or notebook will help you record sights, sounds, names of animals and plants you discover, and details to use in writing a story or drawing a picture when you get back home.

4. A camera.

5. Comfortable shoes, water, snacks.

Try an outing at different times of day. What is awake in the early morning hours may be totally different from what is active mid day or at sunset. If you’re having difficulty finding “critters”, be still and listen to the sounds of nature. This stillness often leads to amazing discoveries. It will definitely bring you peace and calm your stress. If you’re near water, turn over some rocks at the water’s edge. There are many hatching insects under them to marvel at.

And, like every good naturalist, remember to leave only footprints, and take only pictures and memories, and bring back any trash left behind by the human animal, so we can enjoy the natural world for years to come.

Three Cheers for SPRING!!!

The Inspiration Called Spring.

After painting my thoughts from a grey pallet with a cold winter brush, I pick up the same brush and find it changes color like a chameleon. The words coming from its tip are filled with sensory images that wake up the dormant muse. There is no doubt that spring has entered into the picture to spread its influence on my thoughts. How can I stay grey when yellow and purple crocuses wave their tongues as I pass by? How can I be cold when the earth feels warm in my hands? How can I take a breath of air without bringing the scent of grass and hyacinth to my nostrils? Spring is the season of poetry; it is the feast promised after the famine passed. It is the reason birds sing, and the sun shines. It is the reason I pick up a fresh piece of paper and a newly sharpened pencil and bare my soul in words.                    crocus

Get your children outside on a SPRING SCAVENGER HUNT. Make a list of things to look for as you take a walk through the neighborhood or park. Some possible things to include on your list are: flowers of various colors, different kinds of birds, different kinds of trees/leaves, insects, things popping out of the ground, nests, etc. Or, make it a sensory hunt and try to identify various bird songs, nature sounds, smells from blossoming trees and flowers, taste of newly sprouted asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries.


Celebrate all things spring!