Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Focus on Feeders! 2012

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, January 30, 2012

Bird of the Week - XX


This week's "Bird of the Week" is the White-throated sparrow. The White-throated sparrow breeds in northern New England and Canada. Here in Reading, we will most commonly see the White-throated sparrow in the spring and fall during migration and in the winter. The White-throated sparrow feeds primarily on the ground, scratching the leaf litter with it's feet, looking for seeds, small fruits, and insects. It is also a frequent visitor to backyard bird feeders.
Close up of a male.

It is a large sparrow with a white throat, yellow in the front of the eyes, and white and black stripes on it's head. It's song is a slow series of usually five clear whistles that changes pitch once, on either the second or third note, often described as "Old Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" or "Oh Sweet Canada, Canada, Canada."

Photos from All About Birds

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bird of the week - XIX

This week's "Bird of the Week" is the American crow. The crow is widespread, common, obvious, and known to most people. What a lot of people don't know is how complex their life is. Young crows remain with their parents until they can find a home of their own, and individual relationships may last years. Young American Crows do not breed until they are at least two years old, and most do not breed until they are four or more. In most, but not all populations, the young stay with their parents and help them raise young in subsequent years. Families may include up to 15 individuals and contain young from five different years.

American Crows congregate in large numbers in winter to sleep in communal roosts. These roosts can be of a few hundred, several thousand, or even up to two million crows. Some roosts have been forming in the same general area for well over 100 years. In the last few decades some of these roosts have moved into urban areas where the noise and mess cause conflicts with people.
The American Crow appears to be the biggest victim of West Nile virus, a disease recently introduced to North America. Crows die within one week of infection, and few seem able to survive exposure. No other North American bird is dying at the same rate from the disease. If you see a dead crow, do not pick it up! Tell your parents about it.

The American crow is omnivorous. This means it eats food that is animal or vegetable. Things such as waste grain, earthworms, insects, carrion, garbage, seeds, amphibians, reptiles, mice, fruit, bird eggs, roadkill, and nestlings are part of it's diet.
The male and female Crow look alike, however, the male averages slightly larger. Crows live in out area year round. It's common call is a harsh "caw." It also has a variety of rattles, coos, and clear notes.
Photos from All About Birds and Istock photos

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bird of the Week - XVIII

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.  I heard a Great horned owl hooting around midnight somewhere in my neighborhood three nights ago!

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.

Bird Note is a series of radio shows about birds. To listen to a show about the Great horned owl, click on this link.
Photos from All About Birds and National Geographic.

Friday, January 13, 2012


To finish up our unit on Matter, the students investigated Ooblick.  Is it a solid or a liquid?  Oh, it is just happened to be Parent Visitation Day!

Cleaning up!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fun with Dry Ice!

To conclude our unit on Matter, we investigated Dry Ice!  I purchased 25 pounds of Dry Ice in pellet form from the Acme Dry Ice Co. in Cambridge which Mrs. Lockwood kindly picked up!  Dry Ice is frozen carbon dioxide, a normal part of our earth's atmosphere. It is the gas that we exhale during breathing and the gas that plants use in photosynthesis.

It is also the same gas commonly added to water to make soda water. Dry Ice is particularly useful for freezing, and keeping things frozen because of its very cold temperature: -109.3°F or -78.5°C. Dry Ice is widely used because it is simple to freeze and easy to handle using insulated gloves.

Dry Ice changes directly from a solid to a gas -sublimation- in normal atmospheric conditions without going through a wet liquid stage. Therefore it gets the name "dry ice."
Dry Ice Challenges!

You and your partner will try the following Dry Ice activities. Follow the proper science safety rules at all times and do not pick up the dry ice with your hands! Write your observations for each activity. When done, answer the questions below and do two sketches of activities we did today on the back of this paper.
A. Place your piece of dry ice on your desk top and watch it. Did it melt? What do you observe?

B. Put a tiny piece of dry ice into cold water. Does it sink or float? Try poking it with your tweezers. What can we infer about its density as compared to water?
C. Put several drops of water on a piece of dry ice. Observe.
D. Press the metal paper clip against the dry ice. Observe.
E. Compare dry ice in hot and cold water.


a. What is dry ice made of?
b. What happens to solid dry ice at room temperature?
c. Are the molecules in “solid dry ice” different from the molecules in “dry ice gas”?
d. What makes the solid carbon dioxide change to gaseous carbon dioxide?

Bird of the Week XVII


This week's "Bird of the Week" is the American goldfinch. The Am. goldfinch is a small, colorful, abundant songbird. American Goldfinch is frequently found in weedy fields where it eats the seeds of weeds, flowers, and other plants. It is a common visitor to backyard bird feeders where it will often appear in flocks.

The Goldfinch is a small bird, about 4 - 5 inches long, with a small, pink, pointed, conical bill. It's wings are dark with large, white wingbars. The body is bright yellow to a dull brown and it's tail is short and notched. The breeding male is a bright yellow with a black cap and wings.


The American Goldfinch is one of the latest nesting birds. It usually does not start until late June or early July, when most other songbirds are finishing with breeding. The late timing may be related to the availability of suitable nesting materials and seeds for feeding young.

Photos from All About Birds.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Drying Out – Learning About Evaporation Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Drying Out – Learning About Evaporation

What factors influence how fast or slow something dries out? What conditions allow for evaporation to happen the quickest? To investigate these questions, you and your partners will get one paper towel and find the mass of it using the electronic balance at the front of the room. Record its mass here ______g.
Next, measure out 25ml of water using a graduated cylinder and pour it into a beaker. Stuff the paper towel into the beaker so that it absorbs all of the water.
Now you are ready to begin. Write the time it is now here ________. Ready, set, go! Dry out the paper towel until it is back to its original mass. You may use anything you can find in the classroom to help you provided that it is safe. NO OPEN FLAMES ARE ALLOWED! Record the time you finished here _______.
Under what conditions will evaporation happen the fastest? List 4 factors below.

1. Heat - the more, the better.
2. Circulating air (wind) - the more, the better.
3. Surface area - the more, the better.
4. Humidity - the lower, the better.
How does your clothes dryer at home incorporate (use) these factors to dry your clothes?


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Liebeg Condenser

The Liebeg Condenser demonstration.
 Today we used the Liebeg Condenser to help us better understand the terms evaporation and condensationThis model also helped the students to see the Water Cycle on every small scale.
I dissolved some salt and red food coloring in some tap water.  One of the students tasted it and quickly spit it out as it was too salty.  This solution was poured into a Boiling flask and then heated using the Bunsen burner.  We watched it steam and then boil.  The steam was diverted down the Liebeg Condenser where it came in contact with a colder surface created by circulating cold water.  It is in this area that the steam condensed, changing its state to a liquid where it then dribbled out and into a cup.  The class observed that this water was clear and our taster noticed that it was no longer salty tasting.

The Liebeg Condenser

A close up of the Boiling flask going into the Liebeg Condenser.

Out comes the fresh water!

Here is our fresh water!.

This shot shows the salt and food coloring left behind.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bird of the Week XVl - Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Male House sparrow
This week's "Bird of the Week" is the House Sparrow. The House Sparrow is not native to North America. It was introduced into Brooklyn, New York, in 1851 and has now spread successfully across North America. The House sparrow is the noisy sparrow-like bird you see nesting in store signs and in and around buildings. The House sparrow almost always stays near people and their buildings.

Female House sparrow

The House sparrow is a small, stocky songbird with a thick bill. It is about 6 -7 inches long with a wingspan of about 7 - 10 inches. It has wing bars and an unstreaked chest. The male has a black throat and white cheeks.

The House sparrow lives here year round and eats seeds from bird feeders, weed seeds, and insects.
Photos from All About Birds.