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June 2006

Friday Photos!

My goodness, Friday came up fast! I went to hand over the camera to the boys, when I realized the batteries were dead! So this week, the boys are narrating pictures I took over the past few days. Next week, of course, we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming! ;)

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One-Legged Sparrow by Bookworm

Bookworms_sparrow

Bookworms_sparrow_2

"These pictures show a one-legged baby sparrow that we have been watching. She's part of a big family of sparrows of at least a dozen birds! (Mother's note ~ there are probably 7 or 8 total). They come all the time and they love this place, because we keep it so safe for them. We do that by keeping cats and other bird hunters out of the yard. They also enjoy all the seed that we put out for them!

We can tell they are a family, because some of the sparrows appear to be adults and some look like babies. We can tell there are babies because recently the smaller puffy ones have been fed by the taller skinnny ones. The babies will open their beaks and shiver their wings. Then the adults will go down to the ground, eat one seed, and then fly back and deposit it into the babies' mouths! And they get along really well too; they don't fight like sometimes sparrows do.

This particular one-legged sparrow is like Strong Wings, a one-legged Junco who used to live here. He migrated to the north this spring and now this one-legged sparrow is his summer replacement!

We don't have a name for him yet - can you help us think of one?"

Choo-Choo Train by Crackerjack

Crackerjacks_choochoo_train

"My younger brother Earlybird and my older brother Bookworm were playing choo-choo train while my mother was cleaning the living room. I decided to join in so Mama saw the camera and started taking pictures. And then this is the picture. I'm in the middle. Bookworm is blowing the whistle. Earlybird is in the caboose and I am in the coach. That's all. Except I have a lot of fun when we do this!"

A Cute Little Chipmunk by Earlybird

Earlybirds_chipmunk

Actually Earlybird did take this picture! Well, he helped. ;) It's taken through glass, so it's a bit fuzzy, but you know how we cant' resist chipmunks around here! We were watching this little guy the other day, when we realized he is Chippy, a chipmunk whose life we saved back in April. (His tail is a stump - that's how we know.) He is one of a group of four chipmunks who visit all together, another woodland family, we suspect!

Earlybird giggled watching him scurry around. Chippy can even climb the tree! He likes to sit in the tray feeder stuffing his cheeks full of seeds (you can see they are quite puffy here). We all love watching the wildlife that visits our yard, and Earlybird is no exception. He is working on learning not to tap (read: bang) the glass, so the critters will stay around for a while. :)

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Thanks for joining us for another week of Friday photos! :)


Field Day: The Early Summer Edition!

"Come forth into the light of things: let Nature be your teacher." ~ William Wordsworth

Welcome to the first edition of Field Day, a brand new blog "carnival" of nature study! :)

Whatever the weather is outside your window - stormy or calm - please join us! Our Field Day is weatherproof! The breeze is soft, the sun is warm and the world is alive with the wonders of nature. There's so much to see and enjoy ...

So grab the sketchbooks and field guides! Round up the colored pencils, and don't forget the magnifying glass! Roll up the blanket, and hey, where's the camera? Oh, here it is under my hat! Are we all set then? We'd better get started - we have 18 stops to make on our journey!

As the morning sun rises, we'll head to Theresa's Lapaz Farm where there's always something exciting to learn. Today Theresa will tell us about Rhythm and Nature - the beautiful heart of her family's homeschool. We must remember to stop back later, for an intriguing nature activity she has planned after dark!

Next we'll stop by Anne-Marie's Readable Feast to see pictures from a day spent in the Rockies - fishing clear waters and watching the clouds. Before we go, I want to be sure to take a peek in her nature library - her titles are ones I'd treasure on my bookshelf!

As the sun climbs the sky, our journey will take us to Florida, where Joanne is preparing a perfect habitat for butterflies. Let's remember to comment on her family's clever idea for recycling last year's Christmas tree! I love it - as I'm sure do the birds. :)

Now we'll embark on a trail of another kind - all the way to Elizabeth's where the blossoms and bees are a marvel to see. Take out your magnifying glasses my friends, we're in for a treat - a whole mess of ants have invaded her yard and oh, the nature study that has come of it! Wonderful!

Now we've come quite far, so why don't we stop for a small snack? Please pass me a trail bar and take a look at these great photos my friend Beth sent me recently:

White_squirrel1

I've seen gray, black and red, but never a white squirrel!

Baby_woodchuck1

How I'd love to get this close to a baby woodchuck!

Well, the day's flying by, so onward we go!

Our next stop is at Donna Marie's lovely Garden of Lilies and Roses. I love dropping by Donna's, and I especially love hearing her thoughts on nature study: "Learning how to form the habit to study nature is to make a deliberate attempt to know and appreciate the Creator." Well said, Donna. :)

O.K. folks, grab the field guides! We're heading over to the Bonny Glen where Lissa has spotted a raptor in action! It's the circle of life in all its brutal glory, but the i.d. of the bird is up for debate. (Our guess? A Sharp-Shinned Hawk.)

Now, who has the compass? We're turning south again, for Wisteria's Spring Nature Study tips and resource suggestions. I especially love her advice to "look, listen and enjoy" nature with our children. Really, what more do we need?

Before we move on, we're in for a treat - Erica has joined us and she has a photo to share! Last summer her family spent a few memorable weeks driving through California. "One nature standout," says Erica "was our drizzly day driving and walking through The Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The coast redwood trees in the ancient, or old growth, forest are the tallest trees in the world." This picture is worth at least a thousand words!

Ericas_redwoods_2

Now, what heralds the spring more than a beautiful baby bird, just out of the nest, all wide-eyed with wonder? Well, let's visit Jill and her kids, who recently had one of their very own to observe. Until, that is, they discovered the true Nature of Mama Bird!

And for another robin experience, let's head over to a favorite nature spot of mine - Alice's Cottage Garden. Alice and her children have been witness to what can only be described as a most violent display of avian instinct. It truly must be seen to be believed (and fortunately Alice caught it all on tape)! And please do not miss young Agnes's delightful poem - inspired by Emily Dickinson, and the robin's crazy antics!

Break out the compass again, we're heading northwest to Mountaintop Farms! Michelle will show us a funny plant and tell us a funny tale. We might take a turn on the hemlock swing and perhaps snack on some of those peas - delicious!

Our path continues northward, to Jo's Tricotomania, where we'll see her beautiful photos from The Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Nevermind the birds - and you know I love birds - wait till you see the wildflowers, the lichen, the frog and more ...

In keeping with the northern spirit, let's cool off for a while in New England where the summers are hot and the winters wicked. Susan and family of Chicken Spaghetti are making the best of a blizzard with hot chocolate and that perennial favorite, Snowflake Bentley. Sounds good to me!

Whew! So much for the cold and the snow, that midday sun is really bearing down on us! Let's pause for a sip of water and a look at my friend Wendy's neat photo:

Turtle_laying_eggs2

This Snapping Turtle makes an annual return to lay eggs in their yard!

Now let's head over to Helen's beautiful Castle of the Immaculate. I turn to Helen quite often for her wisdom and grace, so I was eager to hear her thoughts on nature study; I was not disappointed. How could I be, when everything she says comes right from her heart, and her deep faith and love for God? I'm excited to hear more about her plans!

Angela will welcome us into the great outdoors where her family has found plenty to do - befriending a large black crow and discovering raptor pellets. (Maybe we should take a sample back to Lissa for comparison?) Before we go, let's talk about wild things like herbs, and maybe help with the canning ...

A final rest stop is in order, and I have one more photo to share. This one was taken by my brother:

Matts_deer

This big beautiful deer appeared one evening in our parents' backyard.

Now, I'll let you all go on ahead to Rebecca's. No, no. Don't worry, I'll catch up. Rebecca's a dear, but her subject today is not one of my favorites - for when it comes to spiders, I'm with Miss Muffet. And although Rebecca identified the offending creature, little Miss Mary Kathryn was not comforted. To heal the emotional wounds they've been doing what else? - lots of nature study!

Now it's just a hop, skip and a jump over to Tracy's Organic Learning. I'm eager to hear all about her family's recent visit to a beautiful park, when they ended up following a different path. The day didn't go as Tracy planned, but their experience in nature demonstrated amazing grace and power all the same.

The sun is slowly sinking, but there's another lovely garden we should visit. Alice's spot might be new, but there are already lots of things to see in The Lord's Garden - a nature hunt, birds at the feeders, and a study of herbs! Maybe we'll go home with a jar of Alice's homemade sauce!

We've now come quite far a field, but let's make one last stop in at Trinity Prep School where Maureen has sent her children out into the yard with a camera. Let's see what piques their interest, and sharpen our observation skills alongside them.

Time to pack up and head for home, but before we part ways, please let me express my sincere gratitude to all who contributed to my first edition of Field Day! Special thanks go as well to my blogging friends (some old, some new!) who promoted my idea at their blogs.

I hope you enjoyed our day in the field! And until we meet again, let us consider one final thought:

"When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." ~ John Muir

Thanks for stopping by!


What Makes a Backyard a Habitat?

The other day I posted this question at the 4Real Forums because, A. I love to Nwf_sign_4compare notes with other nature enthusiasts, and, B. I'm always looking for ways to make our backyard more attractive to the native flora and fauna.

It's in my best interest to do so, because most (if not all) of our nature study unfolds within the perimeter of our immediate surroundings. As I've mentioned before, nature study plays a vital role in our family life and home education, so it's to our great advantage that we create as exciting and inspiring a habitat as we can ...

Now, before I answer this question (to the best of my amateur ability), if I may, I'd like to reflect a bit on how I came to be so nutty for nature ...

I've always been a naturalist at heart, if not in education. The one and only nickname I ever had in my life was back in the seventh grade when I got tagged as The Nature Valley Girl. You know, like the granola bar? :) Kids being kids, it was not meant kindly, but I laugh now thinking back; I was forever talking about the weather, chasing butterflies, picking flowers at recess and doodling squirrels on my notebooks. Gee, sound like anyone you know? :)

As engrossed as I am with nature, however, generally speaking, I am not very outdoorsy. Birdwatching? Check. Stargazing? Sure. Mountain climbing? Not so much. But as any mother knows, as our children grow, so too does their need and desire for time spent outoors ...

How they love to explore and embrace the natural world! And before long they've grabbed us by their grubby little hands and dragged us out into the sunshine right beside them - out into the messy, muddy, smelly realm belonging to all things wild (our sweet children included). Happily though, if it's well fed, their enthusiasm grows catching. I'm glad to say I never lost my own enthusiasm for nature (thank you mum and dad for nurturing my quirks!) and since becoming a mother 11 years ago, that affection has blossomed into a true passion. Who knew I'd one day think slugs and toads were neat?

As I look back at these past few months, I am amazed by how much nature we've observed - and experienced! Mind you, we don't live in the country; our 60s-built neighborhood is decidedly suburban, and our yard measures far less than an acre. We toyed with the idea of moving to the country (fortunately dh is almost as "nutty" as I am) but our hearts (and his work) kept us closer to home. We do have the good fortune to live beside an expanse of conservation woods through which runs a river.

Our nature study definitely benefits from this close proximity to (relative) wilderness but I do think there are things we do that bring more wildlife to our attention. Notice I said attention and not yard. Truly, our yard is not so special; its the attention we pay that makes the difference. The time spent just being - in the yard or gazing out the window. To me, the most important part of nature study is to take that time to look, listen and be patient. If you wait for the moments to unfold - and they will - you will nurture a budding naturalist's enthusiasm along with your own ...

It's a good habit to develop, this quiet awareness. And once you whet your appetite for nature, you'll be eager to find even more - and when you see something flit by out of the corner of your eye - you will notice it. You will follow it. (Perhaps in your pajamas). You will observe it, admire it, question it, photograph it, reflect on it - and then later find yourself searching out the answers. And isn't this the heart of all education?

But I'm wildly digressing, so let me get on with my original question - the point of this post! - what makes a backyard a habitat? For the greatest and most consistent variety, there are four basic wildlife needs to be met - food, water, shelter and cover. Depending on how well you address them, these will be key to an ever more interesting array of critters and creatures appearing in your yard, however big or small.

Lately, I've been taking stock of our yard (which was certified two years ago as a NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat) to see what's working and what needs improving. Here's how we meet - or seek to meet - those four needs:

Food:

  • We try to put out a variety, but stick with what is most popular:
    • 3 tube feeders of varying sizes filled with black oil seed
    • 1 hanging tray feeder filled with black oil seed
    • 1 thistle tube feeder filled with nyger seed
    • 2 suet cake cages
    • 1 birdseed block cage
  • I used to scatter lots of seed and nuts on the ground but we've had too many casualties lately so I stopped. I want dear husband to build a couple of platform feeders to feed cardinals and doves, etc.
  • We have not had much luck with our hummingbird feeder.
  • I bought a squirrel feeding station - basically a wooden platform with a post onto which we stick dried corn cobs.
  • We'd like to make some homemade feeders like the ones described in The Backyard Birdfeeders Bible (a favorite) and learn what to plant for Attracting Birds, Butterflies and Other Wildlife to Your Yard (on order - thanks Elizabeth!)

Water:

  • We have a bird bath with an agitator for attracting the birds' attention and helping them locate the surface. In the winter we use its internal heating coil.
  • As mentioned before, there is a river not far from our home.

Shelter/Cover:

  • Birdhouses and nests don't seem to "take" in our yard. I think first of all it is a very bustling area with all the feeders, and, with the woods directly behind us, they can proably nest more peacefully nearby.
  • Now that we've had several toad encounters, I'd love to make a toad house or two (though they seem quite happy beneath our addition).
  • Would love to attract salamanders. (For many habitat ideas including this, be sure to check out the Animal Planet show Backyard Habitat - we record it every day and enjoy it very much.)
  • We thought about a bat house, but they already live right there in the woods.
  • We don't use chemicals in our yard, and we really let things grow quite naturally - not a lot of defined edges.
  • We've got at least one brush pile going at all times. :)

As my boys grow, and their appetites for adventure along with them, I am certain our balance of nature study will shift from the intimacy of our own yard to the wide and wonderful world waiting beyond. For right now though, our suburban yard is meeting our nature needs quite nicely and there appears to be no end to the ever-revolving variety of wildlife we witness here in our little spot on the planet! I hope that this post gives you a few ideas for bringing more nature into your yard and your life. I'm certain your children will thank you - and the critters, if they could - would thank you, too. :)

And before I go, please indulge me one more plug for my upcoming Field Day! There's still plenty of room for your post but just a little more time to get it to me! All the details can be found here!

Have a wonderful, nature-filled day!


A Slug is a Bug?

No it's not; it's a mollusc. I just learned that today. Nature study is so cool! :)

It's also not often a subject for the squeamish. And I know from squeamish; at one time I had no interest in such things as slugs. But, as the mother of three boys, and a home educator at that, I've had to bolster my yuck-tolerance level on a number of occasions.

Such an occasion presented itself yesterday morning, when, in the space of ten minutes, I found three huge slugs in our yard! Now, you might be wondering - What's all the hub-bub about slugs? A slug is a slug is a slug. Well, these were not the tiny gray garden slugs we usually find under rocks and on leaves  ... these were at least three inches long and, as you can see below, a very distinctive orange color!

We were right in the middle of getting ready for a party, otherwise I would have had the boys out there with bug kits in tow, drenching rain notwithstanding. ;) Late in the afternoon, after the party was over, I shared the pictures I took with the boys. The general concensus? Cool. Cool indeed - and good news for the chipmunks and toads!

Note: you may want to check out the visuals after you've had your breakfast. ;)

Sluga_1 

Slug A was found crawling up the side of the driveway wall; that yellow ooze is his mucus. Yes, I touched him - and he was, as suspected - quite slimy.

Slugb

Slug B was discovered crawling through the grass but a few feet away. I think the gray-ish eye stalks are neat. (Look closely - there are four, not just two!)

Slugc

Slug C almost became toast as he crawled across the front walkway, right in my path. He became the third slug found within a few feet.

And for comparative purposes, here is a photo of a common gray slug I found in the driveway this morning - he was probably an inch and a half long.

Gray_slug

So today we'll be looking in all our handbooks, and checking out "slugs" online. Later, we'll color a page from Dover's Backyard Nature to add to the notebooks. I wonder if this type of slug might be the Arion Rufus, or large red slug, though it appears more Yellow in hue. Here's what I read in The Beginning Naturalist:

"Our native slugs don't cause much trouble. They are solitary and prefer wild vegetation or rotting organic matter to the edibles we cultivate. The slug I see most often in my part of Vermont is a native. It is about an inch long, is amber in color, and secretes an amber mucus ...

Native slugs play an important ecological role. As they eat they break down organic matter, which is important to soil formation. In turn, they are eaten and kept in check by birds, frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes, turtles, chipmunks, field mice, shrews, moles and beetles."

Invasive or native - ours are much bigger than the Vermont kind described above, though the amber color is spot on. We'll keep up the research and let you know what we find out - and as always, if you have a suggestion or comment, please let us know!

And speaking of squeamish, do stop by Theresa's blog for a link to an online scat quiz. If you had told me 10 years ago I'd get all 5 out of 5 right, I never would have believed it!

But my boys think it's cool. :)


The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

It's very dark and rainy this morning and I'm up early with Earlybird. We have a busy day ahead of us, but for a moment I paused to read in my June Magnificat. I'm glad I did, for the following quote, presented as a daily meditation, spoke very clearly to me ...

Later today we are gathering here with our family, to celebrate Bookworm's birthday, but first we will start our day at early Mass, within the fold of our church family. Start to finish, it will be a wonderful day for the filling and sharing of hearts ...

How to Remove the BeamSacred_heart

"God gives us a heart, a human heart, like Christ's. I don't have one heart for loving God and another for loving people. I love Christ and the Father and the Holy Spirit and our Lady with the same heart with which I love my parents and my friends. I shall never tire of repeating this. We must be very human, for otherwise we cannot be divine.

Human love, the love we experience on earth when it is really genuine, helps us to savor divine love. That is how we grasp the love by which we rejoice in God and which we will share in heaven when the Lord is "everything to everyone." If we begin to understand God's love, we will feel impelled to become increasingly more compassionate, more generous, more dedicated.

We must give what we receive, we must teach what we learn. Very simply, without any kind of conceit, we must help others to share in the knowledge of God's love."

Saint Josemaria Escriva


Weekend Plans

Oh the rain, the rain, it falls mainly on ... well, right here where we live, actually ...Bookworms_invitation

Today, we were to celebrate Bookworm's 11th birthday with all of his best friends at a "camping" theme party. We had planned all kinds of great "outdoorsy" activities - a nature hike, nature-print t-shirts, tents, a campfire and marshmallows ... but we're on Flood Watch around here, so the party has been postponed.

We're still hosting the family party tomorrow, but since I'll have more computer time than I thought, I plan to use a found hour (or two) to visit some of my favorite blogs. Here's the itinerary so far ...

Melissa of the Bonny Glen has a wonderful new ClubMom blog, called The Lilting House. I want to spend a good chunk of time there, catching up on all the interesting conversation, especially this post about curriculum that has everyone buzzing. It's a gold-mine of links and great suggestions (of course it is - it's by Lissa!). My crazy week kept me out of the fold so I'm diving right in to catch up!

In light of all this stormy weather, I am going to re-read Helen's post about sharing a "thunderstorm" with her children, through music and poetry. What a great listening activity! We'll also keep our eyes peeled for a gorgeous rainbow like this. As Helen describes it ~ a happy thought of God's protection. What a lovely way to see it - and I hope we'll see one before the weekend's through.

With Bookworm now officially a "tween" (ack!) I want to re-read what Willa has to say in her post about Teenage Boys.

And I'm keeping Karen's recent post - as well as today's - about curriculum planning in mind, while I pore through all the catalogs that arrived this week in the mail ... which reminds me, I also need to go back to Kristina's post on The Frugality of Home Education ...

I'm getting my critter fix at Theresa's Lapaz Farm.

I want to take a second look at Donna's kids' Book of Centuries, their Catholic Mosaic notebook and the report her son Jackson made on My Side of the Mountain. (This book is on Bookworm's list too - once he finishes all the Redwall books he got for his birthday.)

I'd like to do some personal reflection by re-reading Meredith's inspiring Skirting the Issue and Elizabeth's wonderful post on Being Ladylike. My friends, you make excellent points.

I also want to spend some time checking out a few new blogs I've added to the roll at left - Cheryl's Thoughtful Spot, Genevieve's The Good Within, Jen's Rivendell (love that name!) and Alma Mater's Soul of the Home. Welcome to the blogosphere, ladies!

And before I go, let me make a shameless plug for my own upcoming Field Day! If you've been thinking about sending me a post or some pictures, there's still time! I've had several responses so far, but there's room for many more!

Whether your weekend is rainy or sunny, I hope it's a good one!


Nature in a Nutshell: June 2006

It's been over a month since our last nature catch-up, and though all these pictures started out as posts of their own, time (as usual) got away from me! So here's our June recap. Please do leave a comment if you can help us with any of our "mysteries" (or just to say hi!) and please click on the thumbnails for a better view.

Thanks! Have a great weekend! And don't forget Field Day next week!

Nature_nut1_1 

Subject: Odd yellow substance dotting the bark mulch.

Remarks: We find these globs in the planting beds every year and yet, every year we forget and it surprises us! What makes this stuff - bugs? fungus? I didn't dare touch it so I can't describe its texture, and there was no noticeable odor, though I didn't get too close. (Some naturalist I make, LOL!) It was gone this morning ...

Boys' Take: "Last year we found a strange yellow splotch in our yard ... and now its back."

Nature_nut2

Subject: Mysteriously emptied birdfeeder.

Remarks: As you might recall we have been visited by a family of raccoons over the past week or so. Usually the feeders are knocked down, dragged away or missing completely. This, though, is a stumper. This feeder was at least half full at sundown. We found it the next morning, fully intact, but all the seed was gone! Now, I know raccoons are clever, but how did they manage that???

Boys' Take: "The raccons somehow broke into our feeder and stole all the seed! There's just one word for this - madness!"

Nature_nut3

Subject: Some pretty butterfly (or perhaps moth).

Remarks: I took this picture on one of my morning garden walks. I followed this pale lovely creature from flower to flower, trying to capture the tiny green dots inside its wings, but this is as close as I got.

Boys' Take: "Our mama went outside this morning and saw a strange butterfly. It was white with green splotches in it. We don't know what it is. But do you?"

Nature_nut5

Subject: Largest spider we've ever found in our house.

Remarks: Dh and boys found this guy while I was out food shopping. I was glad to hear they took pictures; not nearly as glad they saved him under a plastic cup for me to see when I got home. He was ginormous and apparently setting up house - see the strands? With as much benevolence as we could muster, we carried him into the woods and let him go. He looks like a Huntsman Spider, but I believe that species is not common in the northeast. Brown, furry, lots of eyes (click for a better view). Any ideas?

Boys' take: (Crackerjack says) "I was like - goodness gracious!! When all of a sudden I head a loud eeeeek!!! It was Bookworm screaming! We came and saw that there was a giant spider on the door! (Bookworm responds) "This is a weirdo spider that we found in between the two sliding doors one day. We think it must have crawled inside one day when it was open and then we closed it without noticing."

Nature_nut7

Subject: Female cardinal singing in evening light.

Remarks: We have quite a few cardinal pairs in our area. This female seemed young - all fluffy and plump. We have enjoyed watching their courting - often the male feeds the female who splays her feathers and bends low at his offering. Their songs are just amazing and more varied than we realized.

Boys' Take: "We have a tree out front [in which] every year we see two cardinals - both juvenile, one male, one female. They sit there together and then fly off. We think its their mating tree."

Nature_nut8

Subject: A damselfly resting on a hollyhock leaf.

Remarks: We always get lots of dragonflies in our yard, but this creature I believe is actually a damselfly. According to Bookworm, you can tell the difference by how it holds its wings (dragons are held out, damsels, held back). The color was just intense - electric blue body and red eyes!

Boys' Take: (Crackerjack) "Mama took pictures of this damsfly and then we talked all about it. (Bookworm) "I even saw the same one another day. You can tell the difference also by how it flies. A dragonfly's wings look like a blur of gray, while a damselfly's wings look more like a butterfly."

Nature_nut9

Subject: Small brown caterpillars.

Remarks: This morning we found these small brown caterpillars inside an old sandbox, along with a colony of earwigs - ew! The boys were convinced these little guys were in serious peril, earwigs being carnivorous and all, (double ew!) so we rescued them and moved them to a nearby tree (though I didn't point out the hungry robin perched nearby). We think they are some kind of caterpillar, but a few images online suggest they might be cutworms. None of our field guides show anything like them!

Boys' Take: "This is a brown caterpillar that we saved from a nest of spiders, ants and earwigs, all of which were very vicious and would eat it."

Nature_nut10

Subject: Big old toad.

Remarks: Last month we found a cute little brown toad in the yard - well this guy must be his big brother! He was hiding in a shed dh took apart. He didn't seem to mind me at all, crouched under there as I was, taking his picture admist all the pill bugs and spiders. As you can see, he just kept his eyes on me the whole time ...

Boys' Take: "This guy is a big toad we found in our shed. We heard some toads under our addition and we usually find some around the yard once in a while. We've also found several other toads. We can sometimes hear the toads clinking around in the gutters."

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So much nature to watch, so little time to blog!


Happy Birthday Bookworm!

Thursday's child has far to go ...

Eleven years ago I began the greatest adventure of my life ... which means today is our Bookworm's birthday!

Bookworm is the oldest of our three boys - he is a wonderful son and an awesome big brother! A fewBookworm_1 things to know about Bookworm ... He loves:

But more than anything, Bookworm, our bright and shining star, we love you so much! And we are so proud of you; every day you make us smile and remind us how very blessed we are.

God bless you today and always!


Where I Am From ...

I have been enjoying this poem project, beautifully participated in by Amy, Rebecca, Lissa, Elizabeth, Christine and Kim. So I began fiddling around with my own version, and though I think I strayed from the template a bit, here is my attempt. Thanks go to Loni at Joy in the Morning who started it all ~ what a wonderful way to share our stories with one another. :)

Where I am From

I am from quiet back stairs behind a warm happy kitchen, from Kool-aid and Fluffernutters and Campbells chicken soup.

I am from a long green ranch hidden below a long green hedge, with a slow babbling brook tucked behind.

From a backyard of endless mysteries - tiny poppies that popped, huge garden spiders, pussy willows and fat woochucks. From the wild pungent smells of chives in the spring and grapes in the fall.

I am from cotton pillowslips and sunbaths on the floor, from fresh laundry on the line and weekends in Maine.

From ponchos, Keds and Holly Hobbie clothes; then later, Izod shirts, clogs and Sassoon jeans.

I am from the practical, honest and generous; from Millie and Brud, and Frannie and Dot.

I am from artists, engineers, laborers and readers, birdwatchers, guitar players and model railroaders.

I am from New England roots, Yankee blood and smiling Irish eyes. From world travelers and homebodies alike.

I am from kindness matters and family first.

I am from Catholics as far back as we go, from Sunday Mass and family dinner (rather than supper) at 1.

I am from hot Irish tea, cold apricot tart, pot roast and picalilli. From mums in the kitchen and dads in the den.

I am from my Grandma's hope chest filled with treasures now mine, and from a wall of old movies shown on projector; from manilla envelopes filled with every piece of paper that ever bore a grandchild's name, to pictures on the wall and memories in the heart.

I am from lessons learned and love lavished by a family who has always been there.

I am from people who make me proud to be me.


At Long Last: Spore Prints!

Spore_prints1

Here is the nature post I had planned before yesterday's coyote adventure unfolded. And speaking of nature posts, please consider sending me one of yours for my upcoming Field Day ~ details here! :)

So now for those spores ... You might recall we had a hard time getting spore prints from our spring morels, the mushrooms we discovered growing in our yard last month. The conical shape of their caps, (perhaps combined with the advanced age of our specimens), made it difficult to capture their spores on paper ...

But as you see above, we were finally able to participate in this neat project and produce some prints of our own! These prints here are all actually from one cap moved around several times. :)

I had sort of thought to leave this project off till the fall, when a recent bout of rainy weather introduced many new mushrooms to our yard. It is truly amazing what you see when you stop and really look! We never knew we had so many types and we'd love some insight if you recognize any of them ...

First a quick mention of a funny little thing we noticed - over the past week or so we've observed several squirrels hanging around the far east side of our yard. This side is far from the feeders, their usual gathering spot. But there they have sat in the open damp grass, seemingly snacking on something ... and now we've figured it out! They've been eating all the new little mushrooms (a squirrel delicacy as we learned in Chessie The Long Island Squirrel)!

Now let me get on with the mushrooms; here is the one we used for our prints:

Mushroom_that_worked_1

And here are a few others we've found:

New_mushrooms1

These have thin frilled caps ...

New_mushrooms4

... which hang down like this, early in the morning, or when it's cool ...

New_mushrooms3

This interesting fungi has just sprouted out from a crack in our playset!

Gray_mushroom

And this tiny one is all feathery and gray, almost translucent!

I was going to post a picture of the morels, or what's left of them, but they are really too morose (i.e. gross) to display here. Suffice it to say, they've gone by. (But we've made a note in our nature calendar to look New_nature_binderfor them again next year.)

Now, a note about our nature notebooks! We have finally found a style we like (see right). It can hold 100 pages and has a view-front pocket. We've started filing our "stuff" in as we go along - coloring pages, photos, spore prints and nature notes etc.

Much like our nature study itself, the notebooks are livey, if a bit haphazard. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason, but I think they will truly represent the rhythm of the spring ~ In March we heard Red-winged blackbirds, in April, there was the excitement of the Turkey Vultures. May brought the Orioles, and June the Bald-faced Hornets ... you get the idea! I'll post a peek inside soon! :)


More on the Coyote/Fox Creature!

Thank you to everyone who has posted comments on our coyote-fox creature! It seems like we're leaning toward coyote, though Theresa's suggestion of a hybrid is interesting, LOL!

I thought I would mention a few more things and post a few more pictures in case they reveal any more helpful clues:

First of all, this was our third sighting. Last Friday, Bookworm saw him trotting through the woods, and on Sunday we saw him again, mid-afternoon, frisking around our neighbor's yard. He made for the street, only to run back to the woods when the ice cream truck came around the corner. His behavior during these photos taken yesterday around 5 p.m., was puppyish - rolling around in the grass and turning about.

Coyote_9

Coyote_6

Coyote_8

The lower two show his tail a bit better. (Click on the images for a larger view). We have seen foxes before (usually very early in the morning) - but this guy seemed larger, ganglier and his tail was less bushy. We live in a very woodsy corner of our town, and surprisingly enough, it is the downtown area that has seen more coyote action! Must be all the construction down that way.

Now, hypothetically speaking - say the boys and I are out in the yard (which is fenced) and the coyote/fox creature is sighted ... do we run or walk into the house? :) As much as I love wildlife, I would never approach such an animal as this.

Fortunately, my cats are all indoors, but I do worry about my beloved woodland critters, particularly my squirrels! Bookworm's concern is his camping party this weekend, the highlight of which is to be a nature walk through the woods! I would think, though, that a party of 10 kids and 2 adults would make enough racket to keep all critters at bay! :)


Now What Do We Have Here?

Since I presented Field Day yesterday, our upcoming carnival of nature study, I seem to have several nature posts of my own waiting in queue! But before I get to any of those, I have to get your opinion on this ...

These pictures were taken through window panes, so they are not the best quality. We've seen this guy come out of the woods a few times now ... is he what we think he is?

Coyote_4

Coyote_3

Coyote_1

At first we thought fox, but now we're thinking coyote ... how about you? And if he is a coyote, what do we do (or not do) about coyotes?!


We're Having a Field Day!

Care to join us? :)

As you've probably gathered by now, here at By Sun and Candlelight, we're a bit nutty for nature. Happily, though, we've discovered we're not alone in our zeal! It's wonderfully inspiring to hear about others' backyard adventures Opening_yellow_wildflower_1and to "see" what's happening in so many corners of the country - and world! Whether urban, suburban or rural, please consider sharing some of your nature here!

So what is Field Day exactly? Well, I'm hoping it will be an ongoing blog "carnival" of nature study, and this edition will serve as its rather humble beginnings! ;) Field Day will be a showcase of posts about (and pictures of) nature of all kinds. Some ideas:

  • nature journals
  • widlife encounters - up close or from afar
  • nature poetry - original or not
  • biographies of, or works by, naturalists
  • favorite resources for nature study
  • observations, field notes, reflections
  • the changing seasons
  • gardening
  • how you fit nature study in
  • OR why you can't seem TO fit it in!

I'm sure I've missed a million other facets of nature study - but the point is, if you would like to share something about or from nature, please do it here! It can be an old post, a recent post or something you write specifically for Field Day ... and your post doesn't have to be summer specific! Any season will do!Hanging_spruce_cones

And if you're a non-blogger, please do not hesitate to contribute. I have already had a few non-blogging friends send me great nature photos I'll include in this carnival! Just send me an e-mail along with your photos attached.

Now for the nitty-gritty. :) I would like to post the Early Summer edition of Field Day on June 29th, so please have your submissions to me by next Tuesday, June 27th. And here's how to do it!

Send me an e-mail at drNOSPAMhanigan@verizon.net (just be sure to remove the NOSPAM from my address before you send it!) with the following information:

  • your name
  • your blog name and URL
  • your post name and URL
  • a brief description of your post
  • your e-mail address (which will NOT appear in public in any way)

And if you have more than one, send a few! I am famous (or would that be infamous?) for sending multiple posts when submitting to a carnival, LOL! It's so much fun to share and learn, it can be hard to hold back. :)

I do hope this carnival strikes a chord - with homeschoolers and Hidden_mothnon-homeschoolers alike - who enjoy observing the whims and rhythms of nature. Hopefully, if all goes well, Field Day will make seasonal appearances (Midsummer, Late Summer, Early Autumn ...), but I'm getting way ahead of myself! I'll see how this one goes first ...

It's such a great time of year for getting out there in nature - it's my hope that Field Day will celebrate, and encourage, that venture!

Please feel free to help me spread the word, and I hope to hear from you soon! :)


A Must Read

You know how we are so nature study-centric around here (new word alert!)? Well, I am happy to say, so is Theresa and the Lapaz Farm crew ~ and she puts this concept into words - beautifully I might add - here in this post. I love these lines the best:

"I think of nature as God’s book. In it he has written all of literature, science, math, art and music. It contains ultimate wisdom, sublime beauty, and perfect logic and order. When we study nature, we are studying the work of the Master of all. We are God’s students and we can never cease to learn from Him by studying His masterpiece ...

"The rhythm of nature is our lifeline. It is the rhythm of our hearts. And we follow its beat happily."

Perfect, Theresa. :)


Mystery Solved!

Though really there was nothing mysterious about it. Each morning this past week we awoke to find our birdfeeders in complete disarray ~ some knocked down, some half-emptied, some gone missing entirely! I was eager to post the developing story here, but we were waiting to see how it all played out. Here are a few pictures from the crime scene:

Exhibit A

Exhibit_a

Small thistle feeder, knocked down and emptied.

Exhibit B

Exhibit_b

Large tube feeder (and unspecified amount of contents) missing entirely.

Exhibit C

Feeder_under_bushes

Third missing feeder found 2 days later, deep beneath hedge.

You can probably guess, who was making off with the goods every night, but it took us a while to catch up with them! Finally though, last night, after I had gone to bed and dh was up late watching the World Cup, we spotted them (or rather, dh did and took pictures!) ...

Raccoon_1

First appeared one ...

Raccoon_2

then two ...

Bunch_of_raccoons_1

... then at least four raccoons he could count! (Sorry for the blurry photo, but I had to share this image!) They were all simliar in size, but possibly belonged to one family. (Do raccoons travel in packs?) In addition to the scrabbling noises, the sound that really caught my husband's attention was all the hissing they were making at each other!

So while we're down one feeder and several pounds of seed, we're up one really neat wildlife encounter! But we don't want to encourage these fellas hanging around - nor do we want to lose anymore feeders - so we are now taking in the feeders before retiring at night.

Stay tuned for late breaking developments - you can be sure we'll keep you posted! :)


June 18: Father's Day & The Feast of Corpus Christi

The following excerpt is from Around the Year with the Trapp Family by Maria von Trapp. Perhaps you remember some of this family's story from the movie, The Sound of Music? This book is a treasure, a beautiful expression of Catholic faith and tradition, as loved and lived by the von Trapp family. I can't tell you how many times I had it out of the library before I found the text in its entirety online here, kind courtesy of EWTN. For more on this feast day, please stop by Catholic Culture.

A most blessed day to all, especially dear fathers and husbands! :)

CORPUS CHRISTI
 "On the Thursday after the octave of Pentecost falls the feast of Corpus 
Christi--the feast of the Holy Eucharist. The actual anniversary of the 
institution of the Blessed Sacrament is celebrated on Holy Thursday, but 
on this day the Church cannot summon the proper festive mood, because of 
all the other happenings following the Last Supper, which she also has to 
commemorate. For this reason she has instituted a special feast day for 
this event. In the old country this used to be the great feast day at 
summer's beginning, with its distinctive feature the solemn procession, 
after the High Mass, in which the Blessed Sacrament was carried through 
the streets and over the fields and meadows. Such a Corpus Christi Day 
belongs among our most beautiful memories.
 
The day before, the big boys of the village cut young trees in the woods, 
usually birch, and plant them on either side of the road along which the 
priest will carry the Blessed Sacrament. From the village inn you hear 
the brass band having a last rehearsal, while mothers pin-curl the hair 
of their little girls. Everybody is preparing his finery for the great 
day. The Association of Voluntary Firemen come in their best uniforms and 
brass helmets. The war veterans will also be in uniform with big plumed 
hats. The big girls are making garlands by the yards which will span the 
street. All windows will be decorated, houses and families vying with 
each other the best carpets, flanked by candles and flowers, are hung out 
the windows and statues and holy paintings are exhibited on them. Early 
in the morning freshly cut grass is strewn thickly on the road. Four 
times the procession will come to a halt, the priest will sing solemnly 
the beginning of one of the four Gospels and each time there will be 
Solemn Benediction. At those four spots altars are erected and decorated 
with trees and greenery and a profusion of flowers and candles. A great 
deal of love and care and time goes into these preparations.
 
Then comes the great day. The church choir gives its best at the Solemn 
High Mass and all the people attend from the mayor to the smallest child, 
for everybody wants to accompany Our Lord on His triumphal way. The 
procession is headed by an altar boy carrying a crucifix, followed by all 
the school children--the girls in white, their veils held in place by 
wreaths of flowers, looking for all the world like so many little brides; 
the boys wearing a wreath of flowers on their left upper arm over their 
Sunday-best, just like "best men." Then come the different 
confraternities with their banners and costumes. In the towns the 
convents would send every member they could spare. There would be the 
blue Vincentian Sisters with their coronets, looking like a group of 
doves, the white Dominican nuns, the brown Carmelites of the Third Order, 
the black Benedictines followed by the brown Franciscans, then the 
Mission Fathers and the bearded Capuchins followed by the secular clergy 
in their liturgical vestments. They are all like the heralds of the great 
King Who is following now under the richly embroidered baldachin carried 
by the four most important men of the community. The pastor carries the 
monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. Two little girls are throwing 
flower petals out of baskets directly at the feet of Our Lord. Little 
altar boys alternate in ringing silver bells and swinging the censer from 
which rise billowing clouds, enveloping the Sanctissimum. On the right 
and on the left are marching soldiers carrying guns as if on parade. 
Behind the Blessed Sacrament follows the church choir, then a detachment 
of firemen, the war veterans in uniforms, and the rest of the community. 
At the very end of the procession comes the brass band playing hymns 
while everybody joins in the singing. The highlights for everybody, young 
and old, are the moments of benediction with the priest raising the 
monstrance for all to see and the soldiers lifting their guns and 
shooting their salute, while from the outskirts cannons resound with a 
thundering echo. I cannot remember a single occasion when it rained on 
Corpus Christi Day. From a cloudless blue sky a hot June sun would shine. 
At the end of such a triumphal procession everyone from the oldest 
grandfather in a plumed hat to the smallest flower girl would be in a 
truly festive mood.
 
In the new world, we naturally found a different Corpus Christi 
celebration. In Philadelphia, where we stayed for the first two years, we 
took part once in a Corpus Christi procession which went around the 
church grounds. In the second year we acted as church choir at the 
convent where our little girls went to school, walking around their big 
garden. It was all very solemn and moving and devout. But as soon as we 
were up on our hill in Vermont, we obtained the bishop's permission for 
an outdoor procession. Now we put up two altars, Hedwig cuts the grass 
early in the morning with a scythe, and all of us accompany Our Lord on 
His way over the fields and pastures and back home through our cemetery."