Barn Swallows: On the Fly by Shiela Fuller

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Every May, the barn swallows return to my farm.  While I do have a barn, I have about ten nests attached to my house.  These mud constructed homes for baby birds are found on top of ceiling fan blades, light fixtures, built in to the corners where walls meet, and in one location, attached to the siding. These active, cheerful birds call my house, home.

Chattering and darting every which way through the summer air, barn swallows are identified by their blue metallic back feathers, their cream to reddish underbelly, and their most striking field mark is their forked tail.  Barn swallows catch and eat insects on the fly. They also drink on the fly while skimming low over a marsh or pond.  They typically eat moths, flies, dragonflies, and other flying insects. Swallows are found throughout the world, but barn swallows are most common.  They are usually found in open habitats, farm fields, beaches, and over water.

Barn swallows are migratory birds leaving my property in late September and returning in April. To me, they indicate that spring weather is close to follow.

It is the male barn swallow that typically arrives at the previous year’s breeding location. The swallows build cup shaped nests using mud as the glue while attaching feathers, horsehair, grass, and other found materials.  Reusing nests year after year, the swallows apply a new mud covering. Both male and females are stern defenders of their nest and will “mob” intruders like cats, hawks, or people.

In North America, it has been observed that barn swallows will sometimes build nests on structures underneath an osprey nest.  The swallows receive protection from the fish-eating osprey (they don’t eat swallows) and the swallows protect the osprey nest from intruders with their warning chirps.

Barn swallows are very often found in backyards but do not eat at backyard bird feeders.  It may be possible to attract them by putting up manmade nest cups long before the birds’ migration north.  A supply of mud is also helpful.  It is nice to have a healthy colony of swallows living nearby as they help in keeping the insect population down.  Anything that eats mosquitoes is a win on my farm.

Photo 1: This is the barn swallow collecting nest building or rebuilding supplies

barnswallow 1

Photo 2: you can see the mud constructed nest with babies and the nest placement on a fan blade.

barnswallow 2

Photo 3: In this photo, you can see the babies being fed by a parent thanks to the clearly identifiable forked tail.

swallow 3

“All of the photos were taken from a respectable distance, some from inside my home, with a high zoom lens.”

To learn more about these fascinating birds visit:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barn_Swallow/lifehistory

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

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/barn-swallow

http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Hirundo_rustica/

 

 

 

 


 

 

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Want to Be An Archeologist? Get Digging at This Camp!

If you and your family are looking for something different and hands-on, why not try a trip to CROW CANYON ARCHEOLOGICAL CENTER. This 170 acre campus is located in Cortez, Colorado, near the Mesa Verde National Park.  https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm  Travel with Crow Canyon in the Southwest and beyond.

For FREE, you can take a one hour tour to explore an archeology lad and curation room.  Or, for a fee, you can SPEND A DAY visiting an active excavation site that was once the home of the ancient PUEBLO people.

http://www.crowcanyon.org    Archaeology for Teens

Looking For A Unique Family Adventure? Try Space Camp.

Family Space Camp, at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama has a program the allows wanna-be astronauts of ALL AGES to simulate missions to the International Space Station. Families can construct and launch model rockets, explore the night sky with telescopes, and much more   file000347090881

For more information and where to sign up visit:  http://www.spacecamp.com

Laurie Wallmark Presents: STEM books with Curriculum Guides for Teachers.

Looking for great STEM books to use in the classroom?  Check out these gems from Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine are picture book biographies of computer science pioneers. These book and the associated teacher guide activities are appropriate for grades K-5.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling, 2017) by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu

 

 

http://www.lauriewallmark.com/resources/Grace%20Hopper%20guide.pdf

 

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu

http://www.lauriewallmark.com/resources/Ada%20Lovelace%20guide.pdf

 

www.lauriewallmark.com

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and many national awards including Outstanding Science Trade Book and Cook Prize Honor Book. Her latest picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and is on several public library’s best of lists. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.  

 

EVOLUTION REVOLUTION SERIES by Charlotte Bennardo: Curriculum Guides for the Classroom

The Evolution Revolution Series: by Charlotte Bennardo

Book three in the series

Based on the third-grade science curriculum and the introduction of simple machines, the award- winning Evolution Revolution trilogy employs numerous scientific and literary concepts. Simple Machines, book one in the series, shows Jack, an adventurous common gray squirrel, trying to outwit Fox, learning how to use a simple machine like the wheel from a boy, and then applying that basic knowledge to stop the construction machines that have come to cut down his woods. In Simple Plans, the sequel, Jack and Rat, now friends, spy on the humans who hide in their woods, studying them- until Rat gets caught. Jack, learning more simple machines like the axle from Collin, the boy who teaches him, frees Rat, but now must go on the run from the scientists who want to capture him. In the final book, Simple Lessons, Jack is taken to an animal sanctuary so he’s protected from the scientists. There, he teaches other squirrels what he’s learned, and bands together with various rescued animals to fight the humans one last time. While he wins the battle, Jack must choose whether to leave behind the woods he fought to protect. These books work well with grades 3-6 to learn, explore, discuss and understand concepts like simple machines, evolution, loss of habitat and environmental destruction, using literary devices like animals, adventure, allegory, and humor.

Resource links: Educator Resource Guides (with vocabulary lists, discussion questions, school/home projects and demonstrations, suggested further reading lists).

 

Until Hollywood calls, Charlotte lives in NJ with her husband, three children, two needy cats and sometimes a deranged squirrel. The Evolution Revolution trilogy: Simple Machines, Simple Plans, and Simple Lessons are her first solo novels. She is co-author of Blonde Ops (St. Martin’s/Dunne) and the Sirenz series: Sirenz, Sirenz Back In Fashion, (Flux), and one of 13 authors in the anthology, Beware the Little White Rabbit (Leap). To put books in the hands of kids, she contributed to the fundraising ebook anthology of horror, Scare Me To Sleep. She’s written for magazines and newspapers, and has given presentations and workshops at NJ SCBWI conferences, schools, libraries, and other venues. Currently she’s working on sci fi, historical, fantasy, and time travel novels for middle grade, young and new adult readers. Connect with her on Twitter (charbennardo), Author Charlotte Bennardo on FB, on Pinterest and Instagram as Charlotte Bennardo, and through her blog, http://charlotteebennardo.blogspot.com/

Fun Facts on Flying Squirrels by Shiela Fuller.

GLIDERS OF THE NIGHT

Most of us are familiar with the gray squirrel that is found in parks and backyards but did you know there is a squirrel, also found in parks and backyards, that flies?  They do not fly with wings as birds do but glide through the air with a web of skin connecting their wrist to their ankle, called apatagium.    This excess web of skin is easily observed in this photo.

Flying squirrels like to eat nuts, seeds, insects, bird eggs, flower buds, mushrooms and fungi.

Usually the flying squirrel nests in cavities in old trees but occasionally will build a leaf nest called a drey, like the gray squirrel, or use a nest box.

Build a flying squirrel nest box for shelter and place it on tree in your own neck of the woods and try to attract them with food, and a source of water.

In this picture, the nature walk guide opened up the nest box.

In winter, many flying squirrels of varying ages will occupy one cavity or nest box to maintain warm body temperatures during the cold.  When supplying nest boxes,  it is important to put up more than one box, so the squirrels can chose among them.  Once you know your boxes have squirrel families residing in them, give them their space, as you would any wild animal, otherwise the squirrels may relocate.

Flying squirrels are nocturnal and because of this they have extra-long whiskers, better for touching things in the dark, keen eyesight, and very sharp hearing.  Because they are nocturnal, the flying squirrel is a preferred food for nocturnal predators like eastern screech owls, great horned owls, martens, foxes and coyotes. Of course, squirrels also fall prey to snakes, hawks, and domestic cats.

The best way to see flying squirrels is on a guided night hike in an area where they are known to live.  Reach out to your local state park for more information on night hikes and ask about the kinds of animals seen.  Each February at the Eagle Festival in Mauricetown, NJ, a guided walk is taken along the Glades Wildlife Refuge.  If you’re lucky, you might just see a flying squirrel.

https://www.cumauriceriver.org/event/eagle-festival/

http://www.animalspot.net/northern-flying-squirrel.html

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

http://www.nestboxbuilder.com/pdf/FlyingSquirrelNestbox4.pdf

 

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.

 

It’s Maple Syrup Time.

What comes from the sap of trees, doesn’t freeze in below zero temperatures, and is native to North America? 

MAPLE SYRUP.  In the eastern part of the US, maple trees fill our parks and forests.  While Canada and Vermont produce the most maple syrup, you can get sap from ANY maple tree that is at least 45 years old.  Sap runs like clear water when tapped; the texture and color we enjoy on our pancakes comes from reducing the sap into syrup through WOOD-FIRED EVAPORATORS.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to yield ONE GALLON of syrup – the reason why pure maple syrup cosst a lot more than pancake syrup which is made with high-fructose corn syrup and maple flavoring.  Once you’ve tasted the real thing, pancake syrup just doesn’t cut it.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly road trip, why not check out some of the Maple Sugaring Demonstrations in NJ and PA that usually run from late January through early March.  Here is just a sample of some of the many sites in the Eastern US.  Check each specific website for dates.  Some charge admission and require advance registration.

1. Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham Township, NJ offers one-hour programs that teach you to identify and tap maple trees for sap collection at 1 and 2:30 PM every day rain or shine.      http://www.morrisparks.net

2. Reeves-Reed Arboretum, Summit, NJ:  http://www.reeves-reedarboretum.org

3. Duke Farms, Hillsborough, NJ:  http://www.dukefarms.org

4. Environmental Education Center, Basking Ridge, NJ:  http://www.somersetcountyparks.org

5. Peace Valley Nature Center, Doylestown, PA: http://www.peacevalleynaturecenter.org

6. Howell Living History Farm, Lambertville, NJ:  In addition to syrup making demonstrations, this program also offers butter making, flour milling and pancake eating! Admission is FREE.  http://www.howellfarm.org.

Check out the listings for farms near you and Have a Sap-Happy time!

For a detailed tutorial on how to tap your own maple trees:  https://kaitoridge.com/