Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Potential and Kinetic Energy

Potential energy is the stored energy of position or its chemistry. Potential energy can be changed to kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy in moving things. A wind-up toy sitting on a table has potential energy. You wind it up and let go and it moves. The potential energy changed to kinetic energy. Substances like wood, coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline have stored energy because of their chemistry. They can burn. When they burn, they give off heat and light energy. Potential energy can change to kinetic energy either slowly or very quickly. All energy starts out as potential energy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bird of the Week - XXlll

This week's Bird of the Week is the Red-winged blackbird. Perhaps the most abundant bird in North America, the Red-winged blackbird is one the the earliest returning migratory birds in our area. After spending the winter in the southern part of the United States, they arrive back here in Reading from the end of February through early March. I had 2 singing in my backyard this morning, February 23rd!

The Red-winged blackbird is a medium-sized songbird that has a moderately long, slender bill and a medium length tail. The male is black with a bright red to reddish-orange patch on it's wings. The female is totally different appearance, looking a lot like a large, dark sparrow. It's song is a harsh, gurgling trill described as "kon-ka-reee".

Red-winged blackbirds breed in a variety of wetland and grassy areas, including swamps, marshes, meadows, and fields. The male Red-winged blackbird flashes and displays the red patches (epaulettes) on it's wings to attract a mate. The males vigorously defend their territory, chasing any birds that comes into it, trying to drive them away.

About 75% of the Red-winged Blackbird diet is seeds. During the breeding season, they also eat insects, especially dragonflies, mayflies, and caddis flies as they emerge from their aquatic larval stage. In winter, grain is an important source of food, and many birds feed on corn stubble and at feedlots.
Photos taken from All About Birds.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bird of the Week - XXll

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Cedar waxwing. This beautiful, medium-sized songbird looks like it was hand painted. It has a crest on top of it's head and it's face has a black mask edged in white. The tip of the tail is yellow or sometimes orange and most Cedar waxwings have red wax droplets at the end of their wings. The name "waxwing" comes from the waxy red appendages found in variable numbers on the tips of the secondaries of some birds. The exact function of these tips is not known, but they may serve a signaling function in chosing mate.The males and females look nearly alike.

Cedar waxwings are frugivorous, meaning that they are fruit eaters. Most of its diet is made up of berries, especially in the winter. Berries play a large role in the cedar waxwing's breeding, social and migratory behavior. Cedar waxwings will perch on a branch and pluck berries or it will hover in the air and grab berries. In the northern part of their range, the cedar berry is a large part of their diet. Cedar waxwings will sometimes pass berries to one another as they perch in a line on a tree branch. Occasionally a cedar waxwing will become drunk or even die from eating berries that have fermented. The cedar waxwing will also eat sap, flowers and insects. They occasionally wait for an insect to fly by and then take off after it and catch it in the air.

Look for Cedar waxwings in winter around fruiting trees. They will often be found in flocks.
Photo from Terry Sohl.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Citizen Science project - The 12th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

The 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will take place during the weekend of February 13 - 16, 2009. This four-day event engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.
Participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count web site. As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see. A selection of images is posted in the online photo gallery.
To participate, plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 13–16, 2009. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day. You can also submit more than one checklist per day if you count in other locations on that day.2. Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. You may find it helpful to print out your regional bird checklist to get an idea of the kinds of birds you're likely to see in your area in February. You could take note of the highest number or each species you see on this checklist.
3. When you're finished, enter your results
through their web page. You'll see a button marked "Enter Your Checklists!" on the website home page beginning on the first day of the count (February 13, 2009). It will remain active until the deadline for data submission on March 1, 2009.
Here are the
results from 2008.

Bird of the Week Quiz # 4

Can you identify this bird? It is one of our "Birds of the Week." E-mail me with the correct answer by Monday, and your name will be put into a pool of correct answers. There will be 2 winners. I will buy the winners a lunch time ice cream from the cafeteria. Good luck!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Citizen Science - Focus on Feeders

Citizen science project offer the opportunity to regular people to contribute to on-going science projects being conducted all around the world. I will be posting various Citizen Science projects that might be of interest to you and your family.

If you have bird feeders in your yard, one local project you and your parents might like to participate in is Massachusetts Audubon's "Focus on Feeders Weekend" project. To participate, you check your feeders periodically throughout the weekend and note the number of species in view at any one time. At the end of the weekend, record the maximum number of birds observed at any one time for each species. You can submit your results on-line or mail in a data chart.

Observations from the bird watching public contribute to a growing database that can provide early warning signs on changes in abundance of bird species that visit feeders. For example, feeder watching in Massachusetts has helped document the decline of House Finch as a result of conjunctivitis, and the northward expansion of Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren in response to warmer winters.

For more information and details about this project, click on the link below.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Convection is the way heat travels through liquids and gases. The molecules of liquids and gases are not tightly packed. There are spaces between the molecules. This means that the molecules can move from place to place. The molecules closest to the heat get hot first. They vibrate faster. They also move. They move away from the heat. Cooler molecules move in and take their place. The cooler molecules are heated. then they move away. Other molecules move in to take their place. This happens over and over again. Little by little, all the molecules in the gas or liquid are heated . The molecules that were first heated cool a bit. Then they move back toward the heat and are heated again. This happens over and over - heating, cooling, and then re-heating. The passing along of heat by moving molecules is called convection. Only gases and liquids are heated by convection.

The up-and-down movements of gases and liquids due to uneven heating are called convection currents. Convection currents are responsible for our weather. In addition, convection occurs deep within the earth helping to shape our earth.

We did the "Convection Snake" and the "Spot Drop" activity in class to help explore convection.

Bird of the Week - XXl

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Great horned owl. The Great horned owl is one of the most widespread and common owls in North America. It is not often seen because it is nocturnal, meaning that it hunts at night. It will sit on a perch watching for prey, and then fly out to catch it. It mostly eats small mammals, rabbits, skunks, some amphibians and reptiles, some birds, and even other owls. Small prey is swallowed whole, while larger prey is carried away and riped apart at feeding perches or at the nest.

Great Horned Owls can vary in color from a reddish brown to a grey or black and white. The underside is a light grey with dark bars and a white band of feathers on the upper breast. They have large, staring yellow-orange eyes, bordered in most races by an orange-buff facial disc. The name is derived from tufts of feathers that appear to be "horns" which are sometimes referred to as "ear tufts" but have nothing to do with hearing at all. The large feet are feathered to the ends of the toes, and the immature birds resemble the adults. Females are 10 to 20% larger than males.

Great horned owls have a large repertoire of sounds, ranging from deep booming hoots to shrill shrieks. The males resonant territorial call "hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo" can be heard over several miles during a still night. Both sexes hoot, but males have a lower-pitched voice than females.

Nesting season for Great horned owls begins in January or February when the males and females hoot to each other. Listen for their hooting at night.

The best way of locating an owl is to let the other birds do it for you! When you hear a group of crows "cawing" madly, follow the crows and you may find a hawk or an owl. This "mobbing" technique is used by other, smaller birds, too.